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Organizer cancels Montreal Canada Day parade, citing red tape, politics

MONTREAL — The organizer of Montreal's Canada Day parade has cancelled this year's event and says red tape and politics are to blame.
The organizer of Montreal's Canada Day parade has cancelled this year's event. Members of the crowd look on during a Canada Day parade in Montreal, Saturday, July 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — The organizer of Montreal's Canada Day parade has cancelled this year's event and says red tape and politics are to blame.

Nicholas Cowen issued a news release saying that as of last year, he has faced escalating difficulty in securing permits and funding, as well as getting approval from government authorities.

"Despite honouring all conditions set forth, Cowen has been met with rules that change at the last moment and requests that make putting on the parade virtually impossible," read the release on the parade's website dated June 19. "An event that is meant to inspire unity has been thwarted because of division."

Cowen said that in 2023 he was forced to fill out the same paperwork several times and fully reorganize the event to satisfy officials. He also said he was told to find 148 volunteers at the last minute, in part to ensure there was one person standing by the tires of the parade vehicles.

"Imagine you are in traffic and need four people, one at each tire, to make sure no one runs under the wheel of a normal car," he wrote.

He said the federal government also "requested that parts of the parade be removed entirely," including the cake to be served at the end of the march. "The parade’s budget was also reduced to 2013 levels in another devastating blow to this cherished event," he wrote.

In a statement, the federal heritage minister's office suggested the organizer didn't apply for funding this year, and that it wasn't to blame for the cancellation.

"As a government, we continue to support Canada Day celebrations all across the country, if they apply for funding through our programs, because we know our communities are richer when they’re connected through these celebrations," spokesperson Ariane Joazard-Bélizaire said in an email. "We have communicated with the organization regularly to support them."

Joazard-Bélizaire said the federal government was supporting a number of other Canada Day celebrations in Montreal, including the main one at the Old Port, "despite the unfortunate cancellation of this group’s planned parade."

The City of Montreal did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

The parade has taken place since the late 1970s, but was cancelled between 2020 and 2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news comes as organizers in some cities have been rethinking their celebrations in recent years due to the rising cost of security and insurance, in addition to troubles securing funding.

Cowen told The Canadian Press in 2022 that while COVID-19 played a role in cancelling the event, he was also struggling to cover its rising costs when federal funding failed to keep pace with inflation.

There will still be other Canada Day events in Montreal on July 1, including the traditional celebration in the Old Port featuring games, face painting, cupcakes and music.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2024.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press