cinecycle toronto

Toronto underground venue CineCycle might close after accusations of racism

A 40-year-old venue is holding a fundraiser next month in an attempt to make up for financial losses and "restore reputation" after its owner was accused of racism last year. 

CineCycle, a bike repair shop and event space located in an alley off of Spadina, is holding a film event and community potluck in February following "virally amplified hate postings and shares" which "resulted in censure, cancelled bookings, loss of future bookings, and a bizarre false misrepresentation of Martin Heath." 

Heath, a founding technician at TIFF who has operated CineCycle for nearly 30 years, was accused in August of racial discrimination after a Facebook user's post detailed a phone encounter with Heath which involved purported statements of prejudice against Black event-goers. 

The post was widely shared across social media, with over 130 comments and more than 250 shares on Facebook. 

Cinecycle posted a response to the allegations later that that month, calling the phone call "an unfortunate misunderstanding." 

"CineCycle recognizes that this incident has prompted a great deal of concern and upset across a number of communities...CineCycle wishes to apologize for this error in judgment on Martin's part and for any offence or hurt it has caused," said the venue's Facebook post. 

While not denying the alleged comments, the post failed to strike a chord with most who read it, especially since the venue hadn't reached out and apologized to the original poster in question. 

Evidently the public boycott was a crippling blow for the longtime institution: just five months after the controversy, the event space is hosting Saving Cinecycle ​​​​​to make up for the financial losses caused by what its event page describes as "the hair triggerism of social media."

"Martin Heath is not a racist!" says the post. "Everyone knows him indeed as the opposite." 

While the event has some supporters (just over 100 people have shown interest in the event on Facebook to date), there are many other others in both the film and cycling communities who don't seem ready to let the alleged bigotry slide. 

"Cinecycle is running a 'Saving Cinecycle' event without having done even the most basic things to address Martin Heath's racism," posted one user, David Edward Oliver. 

"Martin needs to be held accountable for his actions before any talk of 'Saving Cinecycle'."

But some fans of 16mm projection films and cheap bike repairs are vouching for Heath and his fundraiser, chalking up his behaviour to miscommunication. 

"I love Martin, and to see a group effort to slander him online enfuriates me," wrote Navid Taslimi. "CineCycle has done so much for Toronto...Martin has put his heart and soul into making Amazing events possible to ALL who are creative and adventurous." 

"NEVER have I seen or heard racist or sexist comments/actions from Martin." 

Regardless of whether or not believe Heath or the caller accusing him of racism, it doesn't matter. According to CineCycle, the "calculated loss" from the whole ordeal has cost them $20,000.

If they can't raise enough money for Heath's living expenses and "10 months of damage", the venue will have to go under, whether people believe in Heath or otherwise. 

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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