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NWT Pride takes extra precautions following sexual assault allegations at Folk on the Rocks

NWT Pride is looking at how it can make people feel as safe as possible at its event next month.

Yellowknife group held meeting Wednesday night to discuss safety

NWT Pride says people will feel safer when there is more "visibility," like signs and volunteer security guards at their festival next month, as well as symbols of support like this pride-flag crosswalk in Yellowknife. (Mark Heyck/Facebook)

NWT Pride is looking at how it can make people feel as safe as possible at its event next month, after four sexual assaults at the Folk on the Rocks music festival were reported to RCMP in Yellowknife last weekend.

Police say all suspects involved were promptly found, but no charges have been laid at this time.

Organizers of next month's NWT Pride festival, which includes events at Somba K'e Park and a concert at the Folk on the Rocks site, met Wednesday night. Jackie Siegel, the board's president, says one of the alleged victims wrote them a letter.
Jackie Siegel, president of NWT Pride, says the group is working with RCMP and training volunteers who will be looking specifically for anyone who may be in a bad situation. (Alyssa Mosher/CBC)

Siegel says the person wrote about how the incident affected what Folk on the Rocks represented for him or her.

"They wanted to be at the festival to celebrate with their friends, to have a good time — and Folk on the Rocks has been a safe place, a home for many people, year in and year out," Siegel said.

"And for that to change with one quick incident, one awful incident, that's really powerful for us and really sad."

Many people first heard of the possible sexual assaults at the festival when Ian Campeau, a member of the group A Tribe Called Red, made a post on his Facebook page last Sunday.

"I had a friend who was assaulted at our performance last night," he wrote.

"I'm left feeling angry and heartbroken."

Ian Campeau, a member of the music group A Tribe Called Red (pictured) says he was 'angry and heartbroken' when he heard his friend had been sexually assaulted at the group's performance last Saturday night. (Falling Tree Photography)

Campeau says the incident happened during A Tribe Called Red's performance Saturday night in the beer garden.

After his friend told him what happened, Campeau didn't want to perform again on Sunday because he was so upset.

But his friend changed his mind.

"She told me we had to play today to reclaim these spaces, but remind people that they're not entitled to other people's bodies," Campeau wrote.

'Zero tolerance'

Organizers of Folk on the Rocks say they are aware of allegations of one sexual assault Saturday night in the beer garden, but it's not clear if it's the same incident Campeau is talking about.

Board member Ashley Makohoniuk says the board has "zero tolerance" for festival-goers who don't respect one another.

The board plans to meet soon to review this year's event and look toward how to make people feel safe next summer.

This year, they hired security guards to patrol the festival all weekend in addition to volunteers.

RCMP were on site over the weekend as well. Officers say just being visible can help curb inappropriate behaviour.

And that's exactly what NWT Pride is going for.

"We want to have a lot of signs that say this is a safe space, these are areas where you can kind of come out of the dance floor and feel more comfortable," Siegel said.

Siegel says the group is also working with RCMP and training volunteers who will be looking out specifically for anyone who may be in a bad situation.

"If people are kind of clenching their chest or their posture changes, it's something that can be indicative of assault or being a victim of something.

"Our safety team is going to be looking… within the crowd and at the crowd from the stage to see if there's a change in behaviour and habit -- you know, people just kind of looking around themselves a lot instead of… looking at the music."

The NWT Pride Festival runs Aug. 5 and 6.

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