Next weekend’s Juno festivities in Vancouver should be a little bit safer thanks to a new partnership.
Good Night Out Vancouver recently announced it has partnered with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), the Teagan and Sara Foundation, the Vancouver Juno Host City Committee, WorkSafeBC and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association to help implement safety measures inside music venues and at the Let’s Hear It Live outdoor celebration site at the Vancouver Art Gallery during the upcoming Juno weekend March 23 to 25.
“Last year Good Night Out expanded its work from kind of the bar and pub setting to festivals because there was a report that came out last year that showed that mass gatherings provide this perfect storm of conditions that allow for sexual misconduct to go unchecked,” said Stacey Forrester, Good Night Out Vancouver coordinator.
“We’ve partnered with CARAS to provide training for all staff around what sexual assault, harassment looks like, how to intervene and then having ambassadors out roaming.”
Forrester added that the group first reached out to Juno organizers following last year’s event.
“We messaged them last year as we were a little bit upset about Russel Peters joke as the host he made reference to the young women in the crowd being ‘jailbait,’” she said. “We had emailed them shortly after last year’s festival just to let them know that if it’s going to be in Vancouver next year there’s a great program in place and we can support you to make women feel safer at the event.”
Forrester said while she likes to think that email planted the seed, a lot has changed in the last year around the conversation about women’s safety in the entertainment industry.
“They did approach us, I think, because of how the climate has shifted,” she said. “It was a prime opportunity to take us up on our offer.”
Nick Blasko, a well-known event organizer, concert promoter and manager behind such events as Rifflandia and Rock the Shores in Victoria, and co-chair of the Vancouver Juno Host City Committee, said there has been an evolution of safety considerations at these types of events over the years.
“When you have, whether it’s music festivals or concerts or public gatherings, or any other event in this realm, I think the concept of harm reduction for your audience is something that everyone thinks about,” he told the Courier.
“You traditionally think about things like do we have enough security, is there a police presence, is it a safe environment, are we over capacity? You think about all these sort of nuts and bolts obvious things but I’d say over the past five to 10 years there’s been a move towards other points of wellbeing,” Blasko said, adding that organizers now consider everything from sunscreen and water stations to drug and sexual health awareness and STD education.
“I think the natural extension of that over the last say two years has been, do people feel emotionally protected and safe at these venues?” he said.
“There’s been a big awakening to all of these other issues that need to be addressed in the harm reduction realm.”
Blasko also manages twin sister duo Tegan and Sara, and has been involved with the pair’s safer spaces initiative — a program designed to specifically create a safer environment for LGBTQ concert goers and festival attendees, and also just make venues, festivals, events safer spaces.
Blasko said partnering with Good Night Out Vancouver was a natural fit for the Junos.
“No one could deny the importance of it so we just wanted to go right after it.”
Prior to Juno weekend, Good Night Out will hold two education sessions for venue owners, manager, security personnel and anyone else involved. As well, there will be signage up at Juno Fest events as well as street teams will be deployed downtown and around event venues keeping an eye on what’s happening and helping people when needed.
The teams will help women and vulnerable people access public transit and taxis, liaise with venues to help ensure safety has patrons leave at closing, they will also be carrying naloxone kits and have overdose management training, work with Vancouver police, if needed, and help people charge phones for safety reasons.
“From my perspective it’s ground breaking and hopefully it’s something that’s just permanently baked in for Juno events going forward,” Blasko said.