Gemma Raeburn Baynes: RESPONSE TO COMMUNITY CONTACT ARTICLE : “SOURNESS IN A TASTE OF THE CARIBBEAN”
Submitted by Playmas Montreal
Playmas Montreal Cultural Association, a Quebec non-profit organization, ran the Caribbean food festival that came to be known as “A Taste of the Caribbean” (TOTC) since 2000. At the heart of the festival was the President of Playmas, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, who initially conceived of the festival. In 2014, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes and Playmas considered engaging individuals from outside of the Organization to assist with TOTC’s development moving forward. To that end, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes approached Maxwell Philipps and Cezar Brumeanu, both of whom had been involved with TOTC as either sponsors and committee members in the past. Playmas ultimately agreed to transfer rights to the TOTC festival to Raeburn-Baynes, Phillips and Brumeanu to run the TOTC festival through a non-profit Quebec association of the same name. That agreement is memorialized in a written document.
Unfortunately, this arrangement proceeded problematically. To date, Playmas has not received the consideration agreed upon for the transfer of the TOTC assets. And, despite good faith attempts by Playmas and Gemma Raeburn-Baynes to renegotiate terms with Phillips and Brumeanu, an agreement has not been reached. Further, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes received notice from the TOTC association that she was voted out of her role as an officer of that association. The matter for some time has been handled by attorneys.
Playmas and Gemma Raeburn-Baynes were both disappointed and concerned by the contents of an article published in the Community Contact on May 26, 2016, which discusses the situation with TOTC but does so in a manner that ranges from inaccurate to untrue. Here, Playmas and Raeburn-Baynes would like to address a few specific points made in that article and clarify or correct those points.
1. Gemma did not meet her obligations under the agreement
The article states that Gemma Raeburn-Baynes failed to meet her obligations under the agreement. The July 18, 2014 agreement provides that Playmas would transfer TOTC assets. As per the agreement, Playmas transferred to Phillips and Brumeanu lists, including volunteer, committee member, sponsors, chefs and vendor lists as well as website developer and videographer contact information.
The July 18, 2014 agreement also provides that Raeburn-Baynes, working in her capacity with Phillips and Brumeanu on TOTC, would reasonably assist, at her discretion, in the promotion and operation of the TOTC festival. As per the agreement, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes provided the following services for the 2015 TOTC festival: contacted, followed up with and obtained sponsorship, cash and in kind, from various sponsors; contacted and met with media; did numerous interviews for festival promotion; obtained gifts for chefs; hosted a welcome dinner for chefs; planned the opening of the festival, a ribbon cutting ceremony, which included inviting media, the Deputy Mayor to officiate, VIP guests and hiring caterers; and planned the events for Sunday, June 28, 2015, the third day of the TOTC festival, including hiring all artists, organizing a fashion show and other entertainment.
It remains unclear to Gemma Raeburn-Baynes how it is conceivable to state that she did not meet her obligations under the July 18, 2014 agreement.
2. Gemma was difficult to work with
The article states that Gemma Raeburn-Baynes was difficult to work with. The statement is an opinion and Gemma Raeburn-Baynes does not believe that to be the case. Raeburn-Baynes does state, however, that Brumeanu and Phillips made it extremely difficult to work on the 2015 TOTC festival. “Cezar acted or attempted to act unilaterally on a few occasions, causing problems between him on the one hand and Maxwell and I on the other hand. Also, Cezar was rude and disrespectful in his interactions and communications with me on many occasions,” Raeburn Baynes states. “Also, decisions were ultimately made and actions carried out pertaining to the 2015 TOTC festival without my participation and without notification to me, despite my role as an officer in the TOTC association.”
Raeburn-Baynes finds that given the actions of Brumeanu and Phillips described above, it is ludicrous to characterize her as the one who was difficult to work with.
3. There was a need to obtain additional funding and $40K was obtained from an investor along with other funds
The article states that there was a need to obtain additional funding for the 2015 TOTC festival and that forty thousand dollars ($40 000) was obtained from an investor, a friend of Maxwell Phillips, along with other funds. Gemma Raeburn-Baynes was notified of this decision by Phillips after the fact; however, she has not seen a record of any such funds deposited to the TOTC association’s bank account. Moreover, attempts by Raeburn-Baynes in her role as officer of the TOTC association and by Playmas to review the financials for the 2015 TOTC festival were met with resistance. To date, neither Raeburn-Baynes nor Playmas has seen any financials and are, therefore, unable to make any comment as to whether additional funds were obtained.
4. The festival was not stolen
The article states that “any talk of them stealing the festival is crap”. Under the July 18, 2014 agreement transferring the TOTC festival and associated assets to Raeburn-Baynes, Brumeanu and Phillips, a specific dollar amount was due to Playmas. To date, Playmas has not received the amount of consideration specified in the agreement.
5. The willingness to compensate Gemma
The article quotes Maxwell as stating that he intends to fully compensate Gemma Raeburn-Baynes. It is not clear what is meant by that statement. As noted above, Playmas has not received the amount due to it for transfer of the assets associated with the TOTC festival.
Payment of the amount due under the July 18, 2014 agreement and any other amount due would demonstrate a willingness to make good on obligations as opposed to a statement by Maxwell Phillips in an article that does not match with behaviour.
6. Gemma is absolutely the worst person to do business with
Last, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes and Playmas would like to address the statement by Maxwell Phillips that Raeburn-Baynes is the worst person to do business with. Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, in her role as President of Playmas and in other roles that she has held in the non-profit and for profit spaces, has brought energy, ideas and initiatives to the organizations she has worked in, which have benefited those organizations and the Montreal community at large. Evidence of the impact her work has had is seen by the awards and distinctions she has received, including: “A Woman of Distinction” award in 1997 presented by the YWCA for public and community service; the Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Award in 2011 presented by the Quebec Community Group Network for distinguished community service; the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 presented by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec in recognition of her exemplary advocacy by promoting culture through the performing arts and anti-racist education; the Black Community Service Award in 2015 for 50 years of community service; and the Planet Africa Heritage Award in 2015 for social entrepreneurship and community advocacy. Even Maxwell is quoted as acknowledging Gemma Raeburn-Baynes’ role in developing TOTC into one of the largest, if not the largest, Caribbean food festivals in Canada.
Playmas and Gemma Raeburn-Baynes will continue to approach the situation with TOTC in good faith and work towards a resolution that is fair to Playmas, Raeburn-Baynes and all parties. We hope to reach that resolution soon.