July 7, 2017 – “Have a safe festival” – Is this how Canadians are to express wishes for a good festival experience? According to various authorities and festival organizers, yes, safety absolutely has to be part of the experience.
In the last month, several media have covered the festival season with a safety lense: drug infractions, sexual harassment and assaults, and terrorism threats. None of these subjects is to be taken lightly. Here are a few stories that caught our attention.
Drugs: harm reduction and prevention
One festival made the news in June about a particularly high number of drug offenses. The cause: heightened scrutiny by the festival organizers in the wake of the opoid crisis. With a drug as potent as fentanyl making its way into almost every Canadian city, risks of a lethal overdose a very real. To the point that even the Canada Public Health Agency has felt the urge to launch an awareness raising campaign.
— Public Health PHAC (@PHAC_GC) 6 juillet 2017
In response, some festivals took a harm reduction approach. The Shambhala Festival, near Nelson, B.C., has a harm reduction tent where drugs can be tested for other substances and tossed into amnesty bins. Similarly, Sudbury’s Up Here festival decided to provide a ‘Chill Zone‘ allowing festival-goers to come down from highs safely. Others have chosen to provide amnesty bins, small covered tents set up in conjunction with police authorities to allow people to anonymously drop off unwanted illegal drugs before entering the festival venue. Finally, many festivals have ensured that paramedics would be available on site or have provided training to their staff on how to use a naxolone kit to save people from a fentanyl overdose.
Safety for women
It’s 2017, but we somehow still live in a world in which women are sexually harassed or assaulted. A recently released study by the Conseil des Montréalaises, or Montreal Women’s Council, found that more than 50 per cent of women who attend festivals report being sexually harassed. Women, and some festival have organizers, have had enough with it.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal created a safety squad called ‘les hirondelles’. Wearing a distinctive armlet, they will be spread across the festival site to provide assistance to anyone feeling discomfort or being harrassed. In Ottawa, RBC Bluesfest is working with Project SoundCheck, a program led by Sexual Assault Network and the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, which provides training to the festival’s organizers, security and first aid staff, and approximately 3,500 volunteers. Project SoundCheck is now expanding to New Brunswick.
No tremor nor terror
Canada Day also made the headlines because of the endless security lines to access Parliament Hill. While arts festivals do not present the same security risks, terrorist attacks at Bataclan and at the Ariana Grande concerts have prompted added security measures at festivals. The Montreal police created security threat guidlines for festivals recommending things such as concrete blocks to stop rampages vehicle. The message is being heard beyond Montreal and festival presenters are taking notes of the mistakes of Canada Day. Festival d’été de Québec will be having three different security line ups: a fast lane for people with no bag or backpack, a family lane for people with strollers, and the other lane in which every purse or backpack will be searched. Elsewhere in the country, dump trucks and buses are being used to protect crowds from vehicle attacks.
The world ain’t always pretty. But festival organizers are logistics experts and you can trust them to provide both safety and beauty.
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