SOOTHERS? WHAT SOOTHERS?
VERNON - A dance at the Vernon Recreation Centre was for the most part a safe, sober and smoothly run event, despite claims by Vernon RCMP that hundreds of underage students were drunk or high, says the president of the company that hosted the event.
Alexandre Handa was at the dance Saturday night, and he says RCMP and media reports have blown things way out of proportion. While he acknowledges some drug use did occur, he says it was minimal and not representative of the overall event, which hosted close to 800 students from across the province.
“I’d suggest most people had a good, safe time and didn’t do any drugs,” Handa says.
On Monday, RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk said several hundred moderately to extremely intoxicated teens and young adults were observed at the dance, as well as items indicative of MDMA use—empty baggies, unconsumed pills, glow-sticks, soothers, and copious amounts of bottled water.
Handa says S-Trip works hard to keep drugs and alcohol out of their all-ages events by frisking students before they enter. However, teenagers find ways to break the rules, either by drinking beforehand, or sneaking substances in.
“We don’t support it (drug or alcohol use) or condone it, but we have to be realistic,” Handa says.
That’s why they have security and first aid at their events. But what about glow-sticks, bottled water and soothers? Handa says of course they offered water—the students had been skiing all day at Big White, and were now dancing up a storm with their glow-sticks, objects enjoyed at everything from birthdays to DJ parties. He says no soothers were provided at the event, which featured a retro 80s ‘tight and bright’ theme.
“The suggestion that we created the environment for a rave—the company is 100 per cent against drug use,” Handa says.
One student who was there took to Twitter, writing ‘excuse me S-Trip I didn’t see any soothers guess this must all be false right?’ She added everything was "blown way out of proportion."
RCMP reported four students were being cared for at the first aid station when they arrived, and one of them was barely conscious. Handa doesn’t dispute that, he says he accompanied one girl to Vernon Jubilee Hospital. He hasn’t seen the toxicology results, but says hospital staff told him alcohol was to blame, not drugs.
“I would suggest (drugs and alcohol sneaking in) is not an isolated incident, but a problem at all high school dances,” Handa says.
City of Vernon recreation services manager Doug Ross says it’s not the first time prohibited substances have gotten into the Rec Centre during an all-ages event.
“We’ve had a couple well meaning organizers that have done everything we have asked of them when it comes to security... and ultimately it’s the kids and the students that make that choice of how to behave and participate,” Ross says.
In his discussions with the security company hired by S-Trip, and with recreation staff, Ross believes the majority of students were well behaved.
“There were students that over-indulged and they required medical treatment, I’m not dismissing that, but there was also no other incidents of any kind, there were no fights, there was absolutely no damage,” Ross says.
Given the challenges of keeping drugs and alcohol out of the facility, the Recreation Centre has decided to no longer accept rentals for third-party teen dances.
“The organizers, the facility, we can only do so much,” Ross says. “We take all these precautions to make sure the kids are safe, but unfortunately we still have kids that over consume.”
S-Trip is trying to find a way to keep offering dances while keeping drugs and alcohol at bay. Already, students must sign code of conduct forms that make it clear drugs and alcohol are off limits. Handa says 40 staff and over a dozen security people were on hand the night of the Vernon dance. And S-Trip is ready to do more, including working with police and community groups to address the problem.
“I think this (supervised dance) is much safer than what your average 17-year-old does on a friday night,” Handa says. “I think it’s dangerous to say no to dances, no to parties. I don’t think that will solve the problem.”
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