Traffic violations and drug possession were two of the main issues RCMP dealt with over the weekend as 10,000 festival-goers rolled through the area for the Shambhala Music Festival.
“Whenever you have a large number of people getting together there is the potential for problems,” said Nelson RCMP staff sergeant Dan Seibel.
“I was up at the site on Friday and did a walk through with security and the people were very mellow. I didn’t notice as many people who appeared under the influence of drugs and alcohol compared to last year, but again who knows whether it was the timing of things, it was earlier in the day, perhaps the majority of the people that were there at the time weren’t using drugs, or perhaps the people that were there were non-drug users, I don’t know.”
Seibel said the main goal of the RCMP going into the Shambhala weekend was to keep people safe in town and on the roads.
“The bottom line is that there were no fatalities,” he said.
The RCMP issued 52 violation tickets to people not wearing seatbelts and 13 violations to drivers without insurance.
“In this day and age driving a vehicle on the roadway, that’s a lot of people not wearing seatbelts,” said Seibel.
He said roadside alcohol-related suspensions were also high.
“People know that police are going to be there but for some reason still continue to commit offenses,” said Seibel.
The Salmo RCMP detachment is recommending charges for eight separate counts of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.
“The quantity that the individual had was not deemed to support a personal habit, and they might have other equipment like scales, capsules that would be used in selling and trafficking in drugs,” said Seibel.
The security staff at Shambhala were also instrumental in searching vehicles as they entered the site.
“I think last year was the first time that we worked closely with the security where they were conscious of searching vehicles, and because it’s private property they have the right to search vehicles for alcohol weapons or drugs. There was a large number of seizures last year and we were down this year,” he said.
Seibel thinks some people may have heard about the RCMP road checks and the security checks on site and may have decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
“I don’t know if you can compare it to fishing, but the humans are a little smarter than fish, they hear over the
past year of our efforts, so they aren’t going to bring in as large a number of drugs, or they know they are going to get checked so they aren’t going to bring in any drugs at all. So numbers would be down because of our proactive efforts last year.”
Seibel said there were incidents that occurred related to problems people brought with them to Shambhala.
“There was one incident of an ex-boyfriend finding the ex-girlfriend and assaulting her in her tent and keeping her forcefully confined,” he said. “Individuals come from all over and their history and background come with them. If there are conditions of non-contact or no communication and they choose to breach that at the Shambhala site or in town, then we have to deal with that.”
The RCMP meets with the organizers of Shambhala several times throughout the year, and Seibel said they have a strong background and training.
“Some of them are involved in law enforcement in other areas. Some may be retired law enforcement or, current reserve or auxiliary officers, so their training and professionalism is key when you have a large group of people. They help keep people calm and cool, and keep incidents from escalating.”
There were 10,000 ticket-holding attendants at Shambhala last weekend with more than 1,000 additional staff, volunteers, and musicians.
“Shambhala Music Festival maintains an excellent and professional working relationship with the police established through 14 years of safe festival planning,” said Shambhala production manager Corrine Zawaduk.
“Shambhala continues to champion safe festival celebrations, and will continue to cooperate with local and regional police with timely information and cooperation. The festival’s goal is to set safety benchmarks for festivals in Canada,” she said.
Zawaduk said that there are 350 festival staff on shift at any time during the festival including licensed security, emergency responders, and traffic controlers.
“It’s been a really great year,” she said. “The atmosphere was very positive and relatively calm. The stages and artwork turned out beautifully, we had a great crew of volunteers and staff. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.”
Shambhala was voted best large festival in the world at the annual Breakspoll Awards in London, England in March.