Nova Scotia

Evolve Festival in jeopardy over drug-testing kits for concertgoers

The Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia may not go ahead this weekend after its liability insurance was pulled following its decision to offer free drug-testing kits to concertgoers.

Drug kits verify chemical makeup of LSD, MDMA and speed

The Evolve Festival in Antigonish, N.S., has been attracting local and international performers to the area since 2000. (Chris Smith/Evolve Festival/Flickr)

One of Nova Scotia's most well-known music festivals may not go ahead this weekend after its liability insurance was pulled following its decision to offer free drug-testing kits to concertgoers.

Jonas Colter, the festival producer with the Evolve Music and Awareness Festival, revealed earlier this week that the three-day festival would become the first music event in Nova Scotia to offer the kits.

Colter said drugs are expected and they want to give the attendees the chance to be more aware of what they're using.

He told CBC News on Tuesday that the decision has gone over well with many — but not his insurance company's underwriters.

"At this point, with the underwriter pulling the liability insurance, we can't have a festival," said Colter.

"Hopefully there's a progressive insurance underwriter out there who can take this on or at least this company or another one will take us on, perhaps with a contact signed that we won't do these tests."

Colter said the underwriter is with Wynward Insurance Group. His local insurance company, Wilson Insurance in Fredericton, is looking for other underwriters.

Wynward Insurance Group in Halifax referred all calls to its Winnipeg head office. No one from the company was able to provide a comment.

"I'm hopeful that they'll let us do it," said Colter, adding that he wasn't sure when he would make a final call on the festival, which is scheduled to start Thursday. He plans to contact Antigonish, N.S., town officials on Wednesday to discuss whether the festival can go ahead without an underwriter in place.

Kits used at B.C. festival, says Colter

The Evolve Festival has been attracting local and international performers to the Antigonish area since 2000.

In previous years, drug use has put stress on the limited number of local emergency responders. Colter said ambulances took at least four concertgoers to the hospital last year — three for drug overdoses, one for heat stroke. 

Jonas Colter, the festival producer at Evolve, says he purchased the drug kits to make buyers more aware and to ease stress on Antigonish-area emergency responders. (CBC)

The drug tests that the festival wants to offer are capable of analyzing LSD, MDMA and speed. If a festival attendee wants their drugs to be tested, they can submit a small sample to festival staff. A primary and secondary litmus test will determine the chemical makeup.

Colter said he's spoken to organizers from other festivals — such as the Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, B.C., and the non-profit group DanceSafe in the U.S. — who have used the same kits successfully.

"I've been working with them, finding out what they do with their harm reduction, where they source these kits, how reliable they are," he said.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, meanwhile, cautioned on Tuesday the value of drug testing is "vastly diminished" if it's not accompanied by education and the test results aren't given with context.


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