KELOWNA – An influx of tourist dollars is not the only thing Center of Gravity brought to the city this past weekend.
A strong gang presence, drug deals and public drunkenness kept police and special enforcement teams extra busy during the three-day electro-dance festival that drew a crowd of 30,000.
Kelowna RCMP received a total of 1,022 files (up from last year's number of 727) and 156 people taken into custody, but Const. Kris Clark says the high volume was to be expected for one their busiest weekends of the year.
“Probably the biggest problem that we saw over the weekend was public intoxication,” Clark says. Most troubling was the amount of alcohol consumed by youth, creating some high-risk situations in which teens could be easily victimized, he adds.
On Sunday night, police found a sixteen-year-old girl outside the festival grounds, intoxicated to the point where she couldn't give her name, birthday or phone number.
“(She) really wasn't aware of what was going on around her and was at extreme-risk,” Clark says.
The girl was taken into custody and given medical assistance.
Center of Gravity also attracted opportunistic drug deals - particularly trafficking in MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy. Two teams from the B.C. Special Enforcement Unit joined with the local RCMP to target gang activity responsible for the drugs making it past security staff and into the crowd.
“They dealt with a ton of gangsters from every gang you can imagine,” Clark says, including the gangs Fresh Off the Boat, Fresh Off the Boat Killers and the Hell's Angels. While there aren't any numbers on the arrests yet, Special Enforcement teams says the vast majority of the gang associates came from Alberta and were caught for drug trafficking.
“We did see a few ejections for gang associations flying their colours inside the grounds,” some of which were tattoos, Clark says.
While gangs might come to the festival to party, there's big profits to be made.
“It's a huge weekend - there's 30,000 potential clients,” Clark says.
And deals in MDMA weren't limited to the festival grounds. Early Friday Kelowna RCMP received reports of tainted ecstasy after three teens were sent to the hospital with symptoms of vomiting and itching. Another teen was found dead earlier that day, and police say it's possible street drugs are to blame.
How exactly the drugs made it past the festival's entrance gates and whether vendors could have been smuggling the substances is something police are still investigating.
“There's a few areas we're looking at,” Clark says, though they were able to make a few seizures, including a vehicle bust.
For the kick-off to the even last Friday police made a public announcement deterring gangs from visiting Kelowna over the B.C. Day long weekend.
“The warning may have been too little too late,” Clark says, adding that police will have to strengthen their message for next year's event. Between six and eight officers were on duty for the early hours of the festivities and later amped up their forces when the beer garden opened in the afternoon.
“This isn't new that gangsters were here this weekend – it's happened every year that COG's been here,” Clark says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)718-0428.