Festival deaths prompt safety recommendations
CALGARY — With music festivals and large gatherings like the Stampede on the horizon this summer in Calgary and the rest of Canada, a report on Thursday by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse puts forth new recommendations to prevent alcohol and drug-related harm during these events.
The report comes in response to five deaths and many other illnesses at music festivals across the country in 2014, which were attributed to drugs and alcohol. At least six people were treated last year for overdoses at Calgary’s Chasing Summer festival, the largest electronic dance music festival in Western Canada.
“People go to these events to enjoy themselves and for some people, they use alcohol or drugs to enjoy themselves,” said Dr. Matthew Young, a senior research and policy analyst with the centre and one of report’s authors. “There are some people who may make unwise decisions, may get into situations that they don’t necessarily intend to. It’s incumbent … to try to minimize the possibility that those people could have really tragic consequences of what might have been a momentary lapse in judgment.”
The recommendations include ensuring that festivals have easily accessible and free drinking water and a designated quiet spot where patrons can “get away from the hustle and bustle,” which would be monitored by trained peer support workers on the lookout for people in distress. The group also recommended developing a standard of what constitutes “adequate medical services” on-site at large music festivals, as no such standard exists in Canada, and drafting a national framework on security and enforcement.
Young said the recommendations were borne out of a meeting involving event organizers, first responders, and health, security and law enforcement officials across Canada. The results have been emailed to all major festival organizers across the country and Young said the centre would collaborate with more of them to narrow down the meaning of the latter two recommendations.
Western Canada creative director of Union Events, which puts on Chasing Summer, said he would have liked to have been part of the meeting.
“Regardless, a lot of what they talk about are basically in spirit and practise what we already do at our events,” he said.
Johnston said Chasing Summer, scheduled August 7-8 this year, has “a zero-tolerance policy” when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse.
“Personal responsibility would be a really good start on behalf of patrons. One of our big messages that we have for people is to look after yourself and look out for each other,” Johnston said.