Quebec City's Festival d'été introduces brigade to protect women, vulnerable concertgoers

Around 60 volunteers and workers at Quebec City's Festival d'été will be trained to step in and assist women, or anyone, facing sexual harassment during concerts in July.

FEQ follows lead of other international music festivals to tackle sexual harassment

The Festival d'été de Québec says it wants to offer a safe space to fans, especially women, who have a reference point they can turn to if they encounter any form of sexual harassment. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

Quebec City's largest music festival says it wants to create a safe space for fans and it is now training some of its staff and volunteers to counter sexual harassment during concerts.

A brigade of around 60 people will be present at different sites throughout all 10 concert-packed days of the Festival d'été de Québec (FEQ), which kicks off on July 5.

Communications director Samantha McKinley said the FEQ was inspired by similar initiatives at other international music festivals, including the Montreal Jazz Festival and Osheaga.

"The squad will identify people who are vulnerable, who are experiencing harassment at the festival, and then they can intervene and give them a hand," said McKinley.

This is the first year the FEQ is offering this kind of service.

Cramped quarters, intoxication and anonymity can all contribute to sexual harassment occurring during large concerts, according to Viol-Secours. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

Security guards working on site of the FEQ have reported cases of sexual harassment to organizers in the past, but they are not commonplace, McKinley said.

Meanwhile a survey released in 2017 by the Conseil des Montréalaises, or Montreal Women's Council, found that over 50 per cent of women who attend festivals report being sexually harassed.

Most were young women who say they were inappropriately touched or verbally abused, and most never reported the incident.

While the FEQ hasn't seen an increase in reports of this kind of abuse, McKinley said the goal was "to add an extra layer of  prevention and security to make sure everything is enjoyable for festival goers, employees and artists." 

Look for the yellow bandana

In Montreal, the Hirondelles were dispatched to the Montreal Jazz Festival and Osheaga in 2017. The Hirondelles are mobile teams of women who wear armbands emblazoned with a pair of swallows, called "hirondelles" in French.

The brigade in Quebec City will be recognizable by its yellow headbands, some walking through crowds while others will remain at specific posts.

"If somebody sees something or if someone is experiencing sexual harassment, they can walk right up to one of the members of the brigade and ask for help," said McKinley.

The festival turned to the province's main support group for victims of sexual abuse, Viol-Secours, to offer training to security guards, technicians and volunteers on the ground.

Tens of thousands of concert goers get crammed into the Plains of Abraham during the 10 days of the festival. (Radio-Canada/Bruno Giguère)

The organization often receives calls from women who report they were victim of sexual harassment during large outdoor concerts, said Viol-Secours director Julie Tremblay.

"In these kinds of circumstances, where there is alcohol consumption, big crowds and close contact, sexual harassment does happen," said Tremblay.

That harassment, she said, can come in the form of unwanted kisses, touching, groping or assault.

The training offered by CALACS also helps the brigade's members interact with anyone who approaches them, and dispel any preconceived notions they could have of sexual harassment and how to speak with a victim.

The FEQ hopes most situations will be mediated on site but, McKinley said, "There are things we're not going to accept, so if needed we can escalate the situation and expulse people if their behaviour is unacceptable." 


With files from Breakaway and Radio-Canada