County rips into Boonstock
Report finds guns, drugs, booze, traffic chaos and public urination
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 04, 2013 03:15 pm
Boonstock may have taken its last bow in Sturgeon County this summer now that a scathing report on it has caused some councillors to call for it to be banned.
Council moved unanimously to review its assemblage control bylaw last week after hearing a report about security issues at this summer’s Boonstock Music & Arts Festival. That bylaw regulates all outdoor events of more than 100 people, including Boonstock.
Held June 27 to 30, Boonstock drew a total of about 36,400 guests to a field two kilometres north of Gibbons – peak attendance was 11,600 per day.
It also drew many complaints from residents. About 25 residents came to council last week to speak against Boonstock.
Resident Ron Ebbers showed council photos of broken bottles, damaged fences and used condoms littering his property (which is next to the Boonstock grounds) after the concert’s clean-up. “This is my property. It (the trash) has been put there by Boonstock.”
Police, county, and provincial health officials had problems as well, read a report to council.
The event caused two- and eight-kilometre-long traffic jams on Hwy. 28 and 28A (respectively), the report found, creating serious traffic safety concerns. Attendees were spotted wandering on the highway drinking large amounts of alcohol and urinating into ditches and onto the road.
Site security was not familiar with, nor were they enforcing, provincial liquor laws, the report found, and were spotted drinking alcohol in no-drinking zones.
Staff also opened up a fence to allow for more parking when the event hit capacity, the report found. “The RCMP cannot participate in future events if there are no controls that are going to be enforced,” the report warned.
Some 41 people were taken to hospital – twice as many as last year – with ambulances called in from Fort Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Morinville and Redwater. Still, ambulance personnel said “this was the most well-run Boonstock event yet” due to improvements in organization.
RCMP issued some 2,000 verbal warnings for illegal consumption of alcohol, the report found, made 56 arrests, and investigated many traffic, assault and drug complaints. One man arrested during an apparent drug deal had cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, bear spray and a loaded semi-automatic handgun on his person.
The report suggested up to twice as many officers would be needed to police the event properly.
But it was one crime in particular that outraged the residents at last week’s meeting. During the concert, two men were arrested after they left the event grounds and broke into a nearby home occupied by a woman and her children.
Nikki Smith told council that said woman was her sister. “She turned around and saw two men peering through the window at them.” Her sister called police and a friend before locking herself and the kids in a bathroom. The sister is now “living in fear” due to the experience.
“This situation could have turned out so much worse,” Smith said. “Don’t wait for something worse to happen … you have the power to change this.”
Ebbers said he saw this crime as an attack on his community. “This issue is escalating out of control.” He presented to council a petition of 107 names calling on them to no longer permit Boonstock to be held at its current location.
The Canadian Bill of Rights guarantees the right of all citizens to security of person and property, Ebbers said. “Boonstock has taken that away from me. Are you going to give it back to me?”
Council cracks down
Boonstock cost the county $33,290.24, suggested a separate report to council, about $11,915 of which was from its sponsorship of the event.
Coun. Karen Shaw called for an immediate review of the county’s 30-year-old Assemblage Control Bylaw. “It’s a 30-year-old policy, and a lot of things have changed in 30 years.”
She proposed an effective ban on all events requiring assemblage permits until this review was done, but withdrew her proposal when she learned that the ban would affect the Poundmaker powwow and the Tour de l’Alberta in addition to Boonstock.
Council has worked for years with Boonstock officials to improve the event, said Coun. Tom Flynn, and instead “it got worse and worse and worse.” He said he would support a ban on Boonstock if it were suggested. “I will not support it in the future, over my dead body.”
Council initially supported this event as an alternative to bush parties, said Coun. Joe Milligan, but “it’s turned into a rave,” one that the county should not support. “We can’t handle this anymore.”
Mayor Don Rigney said that what he had heard today was “alarming and disconcerting,” as council has tried each year to improve security at the event. “Obviously,” he said, fighting back tears, “this year I failed you.” Still, he was reluctant to ban the event before hearing an explanation from Boonstock officials.
Boonstock organizer Colin Kobza was unavailable for comment.