LETHBRIDGE - UPDATE: Lethbridge Police Sgt. Cameron Van Roon tells LNN between Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 there were eight calls for service at Galt Gardens, including the Ribfest event. Four were for intoxication, one for a disturbance, two were weapons-related calls, and one call for arrest on an outstanding warrant. Van Roon tells LNN Ribfest had its own security in addition to regular Paladin Security officials during the September long weekend.
"All of the ribbers, they love coming to Lethbridge. We've enjoyed it since day one. We love the location, we love the town. People are very hospitable, our hotel partners are great...but as the organizer, I just have to make sure that there's certain things being put in place to make sure that experience is a good one."
Ribfest Organizer Les Gagne says while many people who attended the Ribfest event at Galt Gardens over the Labour Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept.3) had a good time, there were also some serious concerns that patrons and staff raised over the course of the three days.
Most of those concerns included finding used needles and drug paraphernalia in their portable bathrooms, aggressive panhandling, open drug consumption, theft, and weapons issues.
"We saw, on a daily basis, people literally shooting up, people it would appear, with bottles of pills sharing them," said Gagne. "We had concerns with the guy who drew a gun - which turned out to be a plastic gun - pointed it at one of the girls who was working for one of our teams, and then threatened her...that person was under some serious influence."
Gagne also described how open drug use was occurring within feet of the children's play area at times and that addicts possessing weapons also became a concern.
"We had a guy walking around with a metal shank in the inside of his wrist. We had to call police, and they had to put him in the back of their van. On two other occasions they had to come in, put [people] on the ground and take them away.
"There were several cases where they were just so out of their mind...they'd go up to a mother, I mean I watched it, a mother and child right in line and were just very aggressive and asking for food or money or making them feel very uncomfortable. I'm just surprised with Galt Gardens being the poster park...there's a lot of concerns."
Gagne says vehicles were also tampered with, female staff harassed, and many patrons didn't feel comfortable. He feels their attendance numbers suffered because of that.
"We just want to run a fun and exciting festival where people feel safe," he says.
He adds that the last two years their event has gone very well, with little concern. But this year was different, because of the number of times police and their own security officers were engaged.
"The last two years were more passive. We had people come up at the end of the day and ask for food, that wasn't much of a threat. But now, they're far more aggressive than I've ever seen."
He also admits there have also been other negative occurrences in Calgary, Edmonton and Okotoks, with people stealing stereo speakers, recyclables and other items.
"Maybe I'm in a bit of a bubble here, being from Ottawa, but the way people here speak about crime and the drugs, everyone seems to have accepted that as the norm. But yet, it makes people very uncomfortable. I'm not sure why it's being accepted and not being better managed."
Gagne believes that more must be done to give addicts who leave the SCS meaningful activity, so the general public doesn't feel unsafe when using Galt Gardens or other areas near it.
He estimates that between his own security team and police there were at least a dozen negative interactions over the course of three days. However, when asked whether any concerns have been expressed to the city about the number of addicts and panhandlers in the park, he says he has not yet spoken with anyone.
Lethbridge News NOW spoke with Councillor Rob Miyashiro, one of the driving forces behind a new ad hoc committee that is being specifically designed to come up with solutions to deal with what happens when addicts leave the Supervised Consumption Site.
He said these are the kinds of problems they need to know about, so the committee can formulate a plan to deal with issues like those experienced at Ribfest.
"This gives us a really good jumping off point to say to the community: 'Ok, so what do we do about it?' So, do we need to tell people when they're booking Galt Gardens they need to connect with city police for more coverage, do you connect with diversion outreach team...maybe we need to make sure ARCHES outreach team people are there more."
Miyashiro explained that the Supervised Consumption site is not a place to 'babysit' addicts, nor is it a place to 'cure' them.
"But we have to listen to what the community wants. Let's create some positive solutions. Let's see long term and short term how we can fix this."
A community meeting to discuss potential solutions could be held as early as the end of September.
Even though there were numerous run-ins this year at Ribfest, Gagne hopes they'll be back next year.
"It wasn't all negative. We're really pleased with how Lethbridge embraced Ribfest and has continued to support it over three years. Our goal...was to establish a solid footing and I think we have. But to continue to make that investment, assurances have to be in place to ensure that their experience is a good one and that people's safety - both our team and the public - is at the forefront."
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