Music festival safety recommendations come too late for family

The grandmother of one of the five young adults who died at Canadian music festivals last year says new national recommendations aimed to on reducing drug and alcohol-related harms should've been introduced before.

Canadian music festivals introduce safety recommendations after 5 deaths in 2014

'You be careful my girl,' were the last words Lynn Tolocka heard from her grandmother before she died at a music festival. (CBC)

The grandmother of one of the five young adults who died at Canadian music festivals last year says new national recommendations aimed to on reducing drug and alcohol-related harms should've been introduced before.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse hosted experts in health promotion, substance use, emergency care, law enforcement and festival production in January and published the findings this week.

Their four priorities areas were:

  • Event organization and planning to ensure partygoers have adequate hydration, sanitation facilities and are able to learn quickly about known drug risks on social media and other tools.
  • Promote health and reduction of harm by providing a safe "chill space" where trained peers offer assistance to those experiencing undesirable effects of intoxicating substances. Health promotional materials such as condoms, sunscreen, ear plugs, syringes, electrolytes, education and sexual assault support services should also be provided.
  • Optimal mass gathering medicine with on-site medical teams staffed with a clinician with an emergency medicine background as well as nurses and peer councillors. 
  • Enforcement and event security with standard guidelines and minimum requirements for planners in areas such as risk management, communication and weather to encompass both staging and public areas.

Last July, one person died at B.C's Pemberton Music Festival. A month later, Agnes White's granddaughter, Lynn Tolocka, died at the Boonstock Festival in Penticton, B.C., when 17 others were also taken to hospital.   

The 24-year-old resident of Leduc, Alta., was a sweet, trusting and friendly girl, White said, recalling their last conversation.

"She said 'Grandma I'll be home as soon as the concert is over. We'll celebrate my birthday Grandma.' I said ok. But that never came."

Tolocka was no party girl. "Even the local police here said, 'We know Lynn. She never takes drugs,'" White said.

Lenient security, lack of medical staff

White thinks lack of security and a failure to maintain a buddy system contributed.

"Being so lenient and no medical staff around, I don't think it's safe," White said. "They should've had that long time ago," she said of the new recommendations.

Boonstock Productions said on its Facebook page that the festival will not return to Penticton this year.

At Ottawa's Escapade Music Festival last year, a 19-year-old woman collapsed and died after consuming a pill purchased in Montreal.

Ali Shafee of Escapade said that this year, peer volunteers will now patrol the crowd to help anyone in trouble.

Dr. Shaun Hosein from the Ontario Poison Centre said the common sense recommendations will be easily met but the harm reduction piece is an issue.

"We have no way of knowing the consistency or quantity or strength and they're very toxic," Hosein said, listing party drugs such as Ecstasy, LSD and ketamine. "We could potentially start seeing more of these sort of drugs outbreaks."

At last summer's Veld festival for electronic dance music in Toronto, a 20-year-old woman, a 22-year-old man  died and 15 others in a state of medical distress were hospitalized, police said.

In an emailed statement, Jamil Kamal, director of risk management for INK Entertainment said this year, Veld is improving its harm reduction, communication and policy strategies. These include posting healthy and safety information on the festival's website and social media to highlight free water at hydration stations, a better floor plan with medical triage centres in highly visible areas and artificial shade.

The number of events in the electronic dance music or EDM genre has grown, said Paul Corcoran, executive vice-president of venue and facilities for Live Nation Canada, which sponsors EDM festivals. 

"I don't know if it deserves the rap," Corcoran said. "When you bring the massive number of people together and you look at some of the challenges that have gone on over the years, it's not a big percentage but it has that stigma."

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse provides guidance and advice on addictions and substance use to the public, private and non-governmental organizations.


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