July has not been a good month for organizers of the Boonstock Music and Arts Festival, but amid controversy and confusion, the event is still going ahead on Aug. 1.
Last Friday, the Liquor Control and Licensing Board announced they were denying the festival’s liquor licence application, citing potential safety concerns that had not been addressed by the festival.
Boonstock announced they would be appealing the decision, but the LCLB followed up with a more detailed release, making it clear that they would not review the decision, as well as giving a more detailed account of their concerns.
“In the case of Boonstock, our concerns about a host of issues, including the lack of safety and security planning, is why we have made the decision to not approve their application,” wrote Ray Tetzel, deputy general manager, compliance and enforcement division for the LCLB, in a press release.
On June 27, International Crowd Management, who had been booked to handle security for the event, terminated their agreement with the Boonstock festival citing safety concerns after organizers made “sudden and significant changes to the safety plan without consultation with ICM or the various city, provincial or federal stakeholders.”
Boonstock organizers worked quickly to find another firm to supply event security and on July 8, Haynes announced a new contract with 24/7 Security from Aldergrove. But according to Tetzel, as late as last Friday, Boonstock organizers had still not provided proof they had signed agreements for site security, emergency health services (ambulances), waste management, potable water, tents or firefighting. With a reported 8,000 people having purchased tickets, Tetzel said the concerns were “much more than a liquor issue.”
“Our understanding is that other public safety agencies are also taking precautions to prepare for any potential security or safety issues during the three-day festival. RCMP are well aware and supportive of our decision to reject the liquor application.”
Andrew Jakubeit, acting as deputy mayor, said the city had not once, but twice been assured by Boonstock organizers that everything was in place.
“To have the LCLB come back and say you don’t have a signed contract for security, that was disappointing because we had been told everything was in place, both verbally and in a letter saying they had their ducks in a row,” said Jakubeit. “It’s not just one or two items that are missing, there is a little bit of a laundry list of things that are missing or not complete or no one has been shown the signed copies of.”
While the City of Penticton doesn’t have any direct involvement with Boonstock, Jakubeit said the city’s focus now is on creating a safe and fun environment for all those who come to Penticton.
“There is still many amenities for them to enjoy, plus there is still some great music that is going to be here,” he said. “Hopefully, that can still transpire where people who are coming here they still leave at the end of the day with a good feeling about it.”
To add to the confusion, the Penticton Indian Band, where the event is being held on locatee lands, withdrew their support for the Boonstock, then later renewed it the same day.
Chief Jonathan Kruger explained that the band council was concerned the cost of the extra RCMP was covered by Boonstock.
Coun. Kevin Gabriel, the portfolio holder for Emergency and Safety Services, was quoted in the first release, that “without the deposit for the costs of the additional policing, we cannot place our community at risk. Nor should the Band be liable for the additional cost to police our community as a consequence of this special event.”
Kruger said the band council held a second special meeting Tuesday regarding their support for the festival.
“As of noon today, Boonstock organizers have fulfilled and met all requirements passed by the Penticton Indian Band Council,” said Kruger, adding that the band council has retracted their previous media release and reinstated their support for the event.
“They (Boonstock) have put the money towards the RCMP bill, so it is an outstanding item that has been addressed now,” said Kruger.
Campbell Watt, president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, said they also continue to support the music festival, with or without the blessing of the LCLB for a liquor licence.
“Currently, we are still backing Boonstock. It has opened up the door for some questions and concerns. We have our regular scheduled board meeting tomorrow and we will talk about it. As of right now, we are still supporters of Boonstock,” said Watt.
Watt said he personally believes there would have been less potential for problems if the LCLB had granted the licence. Only about half the festival goers — more than 7,000 tickets reportedly sold — will be camping on site, where they are able to consume alcohol.
“Those other 3,000 people are going to want to drink at some point. My fear as a business representative is that they flood the downtown, because we only have two nightclubs to go and have a drink at. They don’t have the room to take an extra 500 to 2,000 people. What are those people going to do now?” said Watt.
Boonstock is also facing a backlash from some who purchased tickets, especially VIP passes, expecting access to the VIP licensed areas. Many of those have been asking whether there will be compensation, or solutions to allow people with day passes in and out privileges.
Boonstock has not replied to the concerns posted online, or media requests for interviews. Tuesday afternoon, they posted a clarification of the rules regarding alcohol, noting that those with weekend passes can purchase liquor and bring it into the campground, though there is no drinking in the concert area, and people holding day passes cannot enter the camping area.
John Vassilaki, owner of the Liquor Mart on Green Avenue and a city councillor, is also disappointed in the LCLB decision. He doesn’t expect problems, but said he’s increased his doubled his stock in response and is adding two extra staff per shift to deal with busier traffic.
“The last thing we need is problems in town because people can’t get what they want. I just hope that there is a plan in place by the RCMP to take care of the city,” said Vassilaki. “The opportunity of something going wrong is much greater without them having a liquor licence than without.”
Watt said the feedback he is getting from the business community is that they are not expecting anything unusual, since the August long weekend is already the busiest time of the year.
“The good and the negative about having this on the August long weekend is it is already a really busy time for us as Pentictonites. The extra staff is already there, places that have security, they’ve got extra security already. The hoteliers probably had extra staff for cleaning rooms, etc,” said Watt.
Most business owners, he suggested have been around for many years, he suggested, and have seen these busier times than this.
“They know what’s coming. Just because it happens to be a music festival, doesn’t mean things are gong to go way outside of the ordinary, they’re just busier,” said Watt.
Penticton Regional Hospital says they are also prepared for the traditional busy weekend.
“August long weekend is traditionally a busy weekend for Penticton as it is a summer tourist destination and we ensure we are appropriately staffed when there are more people visiting the community. We know Penticton will be even busier with the addition of another event, and PRH has plans in place should there be extra demand on our services,” said Lori Motluk, Acute Health Service Administrator South Okanagan.
PRH will also have the province’s Mobile Medical Unit on hand, a 16-metre tractor-trailer that expands to a 90-square-metre flexible facility with up to eight or 10 patient treatment bays, and can provide four levels of care, from public health outreach and first aid, to critical care and emergency life-saving surgery.
Tetzel said LCLB inspectors have had numerous meetings with Boonstock organizers over the last number of months and have communicated their concerns on multiple occasions.
“We were hopeful that the advice we provided to organizers during these meetings would have encouraged them to take action earlier to satisfy these concerns, not only for the sake of receiving a liquor licence, but also in order to provide a safe experience for those who plan on attending,” said Tetzel. “Unfortunately this has not happened and that is why we have rejected Boonstock’s liquor application.”