Osheaga incident highlights sexual assault problem at festivals

Project Soundcheck - a group that trains staff and volunteers at music festivals on how to prevent sexual assaults - says an incident at Osheaga last weekend shows organizers need to do more to protect festival goers. Evenko says it's committed to their safety.

'We are committed to the safety and well-being of our festival attendees,' Evenko replies

Osheaga draws thousands to Montreal's Parc Jean-Drapeau every summer. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

Project Soundcheck – a group that trains staff and volunteers at music festivals on how to prevent sexual assaults – says an incident at Osheaga last weekend shows there's work to be done.

A festival goer at the Montreal rock event, Melanie Doucet, told CBC that someone slipped a drug in her drink Friday night and when she reported what happened to security crews, she was brushed off.

"It sounds like, unfortunately, those staff people – just like many people – don't understand the issues surrounding sexual violence," Kira-Lynn Ferderber, a trainer with the Ottawa-based group, told CBC in an interview.

Woman claims she was drugged at Osheaga and no one helped

6 years ago
Duration 0:31
Melanie Doucet says when she reported that she was drugged to security crews at the festival, she was brushed off.

Festivals need to be proactive

​Ferderber said Project Soundcheck started after a researcher at an Ottawa Hospital found that 25 per cent of sexual assaults reported at the hospital over the course of a year happened at large public events, such as music festivals.

Her group has partnered with several event organizers in Ottawa, such as the Bluesfest and Ottawa Pride, to train volunteers and staff on how to help prevent sexual assault.

Kira-Lynn Ferderber founded Project Soundcheck in Ottawa to train staff at music festivals to prevent sexual assaults. (CBC)

Ferderber said volunteers have to take preventive action, patrolling the site and looking for people who appear to be in distress.

"You can walk up to somebody and say, 'Are you ok? How are you doing? Do you need help?'"

She said security checks as people leave the festival can also weed out potential problems. 

Festivals have a responsibility to be proactive and try to prevent sexual assaults before they happen, Ferderber said.

"You don't hold a big event without a fire safety plan, without your bartenders having rules about who to serve, without  a plan in case there's an electrical storm," Ferderber said.

"This needs to be part of their safety planning."

Ferderber said the festivals her group has worked with in Ottawa have been extremely receptive to the participation of Project Soundcheck.  But she said some festivals still don't seem to get it.

"Unfortunately, festivals sometimes feel that addressing this maybe would be a detriment to their bottom line,"  Ferderber said.

Osheaga promoter says it 'takes all necessary measures'

Evenko, the concert promotion company that runs Osheaga, refused to be interviewed by CBC about the incident involving Doucet. 

Initially, Evenko's media relations officer, Philip Vanden Brande, sent an email with this statement: "Evenko takes all necessary measures to ensure the safety of its festival goers. We are sorry to hear what happened to this lady. We will proceed with an investigation in order to find out what transpired."

Late Tuesday afternoon, Vanden Brande sent a second email, reiterating Evenko's earlier statement and adding that teams on site at the festival "can intervene quickly, and, if needed, rapidly and effectively treat those who require special care."

"SPVM police officers are also present around the site and are ready to take action at any time."

Evenko lists a series of measures to prevent, detect and help festival attendees, including:

  • the security search at the entrance.
  • the presence of medical and paramedical personnel.
  • the presence of identifiable security guards.
  • the presence of an organization specialized in raising awareness of the effects of drugs.
  • the provision of rest areas.
  • the announcement of preventative messages during the festival.

Need for culture shift

Ferderber said the problem requires more than improved security. She said it requires a culture shift.

"There are holistic approaches you can take to not being part of rape culture, like not booking bands that encourage violence against women," Ferderber said.
Osheaga booked controversial rapper Action Bronson, accused of promoting violence and sexism, for its 2015 edition. (Action Bronson/Facebook)

Last year, Osheaga booked controversial rapper Action Bronson, who's been accused of promoting sexism, violence and rape.

Critics pointed to his music video, Brunch, in which he cooks a meal over a woman's apparently dead body. Later in the video, he discovers the woman is still alive and stabs her.

In another song, Consensual Rape, Bronson raps about drugging and violently gang-raping women.

Despite the outcry, Osheaga refused to cancel Bronson's booking.

In the end Bronson didn't show due to unspecified "travel problems."