A car with two Confederate flag decals and a Confederate license plate parked at the Highland Creek Heritage Festival (HCHF) in Scarborough on June 17 has prompted complaints from some members in the community.
Local resident Ybia Anderson, visiting the event with her son for the first time, found the car in question, a replica of ‘General Lee’ from Dukes of Hazzard, and approached festival staff to ask that the car be removed. Anderson then began to livestream her confrontation with an alleged friend of the car’s owner and festival staff.
Speaking about the incident, U of T Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) President Sitharsana Srithas said, “There wasn’t any kind of complaint process, or any anti-harassment officers present, or decompression spaces. There [aren’t] any measures put in place to address an issue like this… It just added to the stereotype that this was just an angry Black woman, which is not the case.”
Following online response to Anderson’s livestream, the HCHF organizers posted an apology to their Facebook page. “We regret that any person was made to feel unwelcome at our event,” wrote Paul Maguire, Chair of the HCHF organizing committee. “Having identified the problem, we resolve to strive for greater sensitivity and preparation in the future.”
In response to the apology, the SCSU wrote an open letter addressed to both the HCHF and UTSC, a community partner to the event. One of the letter’s demands is for the UTSC to “take proactive measures to ensure that inclusivity is prioritized among their future community partners.”
“As a community, we have to hold ourselves accountable and we have to set the standards of what’s acceptable and what’s not. And unless we make that very clear, I feel like it will continue to happen and it will eventually be normalized,” Srithas told The Varsity.
“As one of many sponsors of this year’s festival we were deeply embarrassed and chagrined by the appearance of such a hateful symbol,” Don Campbell, a Media Relations Officer at UTSC, told The Varsity.
Campbell reiterated that the festival organizers, all of whom are volunteers, immediately issued a public statement of condemnation. “We are confident that they are sincere in this commitment,” he said.
Bruce Kidd, Principal of UTSC, added that “as a university, we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that all persons are welcomed and can participate in our community without distinction, and afforded the dignity of an environment free of hateful images.”
Scarborough residents have also been writing to their representatives, including City Councillor Neethan Shan, asking for some answers. Shan agrees that these questions need answers, and addressed the festival organizers in his own open letter.
“It’s not just me as a councillor wanting this, I’m just standing up for what some of the community members have written out and telling me, including people who live in Ward 44,” Shan said. “There’s been histories where deliberate attempts to exclude people, deliberate attempts to oppress people, deliberate attempts to exploit and influence people have happened.”
“[The Confederate] flag has a longstanding history of slavery, has a longstanding history of racism, has a longstanding history of white supremacy,” Srithas said. “And Scarborough is one of the most diverse communities, I would argue, in the province so to have something like this is not understanding the community you are throwing this event for in the first place.”
The HCHF did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.