PRESS RELEASE: Policing Plan Threatens Popular Community Festival |
Organizers of North Vancouver's popular Under the Volcano Festival of Art and Social Change will be meeting this week to discuss the festival's future in North Vancouver. The move comes after RCMP unveiled plans to massively increase police presence and invasive procedures at this year's festival, slated for August 12 at Cates Park. The RCMP have also ordered organizers to end the festival 90 minutes earlier than the regular 10:30pm finish time, forcing last minute programming changes.
In the past, the RCMP have maintained a minimal presence at the day-long festival. The RCMP plan for this year's event includes a front-gate police checkpoint where vehicles will be subject to search as they enter the festival. Six police cars will be parked at the entrance and 12 uniformed officers will patrol the site along with an undisclosed number of under-cover police officers. The plan also includes the possibility of police dogs on site and a roadblock to check cars as they leave Cates Park.
"We have a great security track record and this policing plan is simply overkill," says Irwin Oostindie, an Under the Volcano Festival volunteer and Co-Coordinator of Safety & Security. "North Vancouver RCMP are poised to do what the police were so heavily criticized for at last year's fireworks display in Vancouver. Here we have another situation where police surveillance is deemed more important than our right to enjoy community events without police interference and intimidation. We have the right to peacefully assemble in a public park without being made to feel like criminals for it. Overpolicing not only increases the likelihood that civil rights will be violated. It's a waste of taxpayer's money and an insult to the thousands of people who have attended Under the Volcano for the past decade."
The unique "pay what you can" community festival has attracted 70,000 people over the past 11 years. The Cates Park event is family-oriented, with alcohol and dogs prohibited, and receives funding from both North Vancouver municipalities through the North Shore Arts Commission.
Over the 11-year history of the festival, organizers have successfully coordinated their own security. A dozen radio-equipped community volunteers are trained to deal proactively with situations such as public drinking. The festival is also guided by a Safety and Security Plan approved by the Parks Department and Park Events staff.
The "self-policing" model is the norm for community festivals in the GVRD and Under the Volcano has been commended by the Parks Department for its successful violence-free security record. When minor problems have occurred, festival organizers have taken steps to solve them and worked with Park Events staff to improve overall security plans. This year's Festival Safety program includes security, first aid, environmental concerns, and parking.
Under the Volcano Festival organizers are also concerned that police are over-stepping their boundaries and unilaterally creating plans and policies which effectively curb rights to community expression. Last year, organizers successfully fought an RCMP recommendation that Under the Volcano pay a $5,000 security bond for policing which would have severely limited the non-profit community festival and others like it. This year, festival organizers were invited to participate in a community process with the Parks Department and the RCMP to negotiate a security plan agreeable to all parties. However, at an August 1st meeting, Sergeant Wilson of the RCMP announced that their plan was already in place. "We come from different worlds," Wilson stated to festival organizers. "My superiors have already decided the level of policing."
"The real question here is how much policing of public events do people want," says Oostindie. "This is not for the police to decide. We've experienced first hand the failure of the police to actually include community partners in making security decisions. The 'community policing' process seems to be just talk. The question of policing levels at public events is something that has to be decided by elected officials after community debate."
Until that debate occurs, Under the Volcano Festival organizers are demanding that the RCMP revoke its heavy-handed policing plan and return to the policing levels of previous years with festival security doing the front-line work that they have done for the past 11 years.
Planned performers at this year's Under the Volcano include such diverse artists as New York City's DJ Kuttin Candi and Subsistencia of Los Angeles. Heralding from North Vancouver are Swollen Members and Chief Leonard George & Children of Takaya of the local Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
Media contact: Irwin Oostindie, Festival Volunteer, (cellular) 644.4349