Around one in six charges laid by the Ontario Provincial Police at this past summer’s Boots and Hearts music festival was for sexual assault.
“There were seven sexual assaults reported at this year’s event,” Orillia OPP detachment commander Insp. Coyer Yateman wrote an email to BradfordToday and InnisfilToday.
He could provide few other details.
“Many of these cases are currently before the courts,” Yateman said. “It would be inappropriate to discuss these cases further at this time.”
According to the OPP, there were 40 criminal charges laid at Boots and Hearts 2023, which was held at Burl’s Creek Event Grounds, located in Oro-Medonte Township about halfway between Barrie and Orillia. There were 11 at the previous year's event in 2022.
Over the course of the festival, which was held Aug. 10 to 13, the OPP says officers responded to 174 calls for service, including 21 for "violent" Criminal Code infractions, 11 property crime violations, 11 traffic violations and two drug violations.
BradfordToday and InnisfilToday left numerous messages for Todd Jenereaux, executive vice-president of Republic Live, the company that presented the Boots and Hearts Music Festival. Jenereaux did not respond for comment.
Yateman said large-scale events like Boots and Hearts, which create instant small cities, present significant policing concerns, especially when it comes to personal safety, drugs and alcohol.
“Alcohol and substance use and over-consumption pose challenges,” Yateman said. “Lack of sleep and food, coupled with substance abuse, will affect patron behaviour.”
He also noted there were concerns about festival goers’ safety due to the storms that blew through the area. He said there were “many people sleeping outdoors or with limited shelter options.”
Yateman said the OPP has had a similar number of paid-duty officers at the event every year. In fact, the OPP increased the number of paid-duty officers for this year’s event to 146 — up from 128 in 2022.
The OPP has also recommended increased training to festival security and that the festival implement close-circuit television cameras throughout the grounds to assist should an investigation be required.
Given the rise in alleged sexual assaults, Yateman said the OPP recommends the following safety suggestions for music festivals:
- Use the buddy system. Know where your friends are and pick a meeting place in the event you get separated.
- Keep your cellphone charged.
- Know where you can go for help, like a security checkpoint, paramedic staging point or a police command post.
- Keep track of your own drinks and understand how alcohol or cannabis affect you. If you suddenly feel more intoxicated than typical, seek medical help and stay close to people you trust.
- Stay with people you know and don’t feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to.
The OPP also recommends the following for young adults attending music festivals:
- If you are of legal age, use alcohol or cannabis in moderation; don’t binge drink or over-consume.
- Do not accept drinks or cannabis from people you don’t know.
- Understand how alcohol or cannabis affects you personally and seek medial assistance if you suddenly feel more intoxicated than typical.
- Stay hydrated. Alcohol mixed with hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion/stroke.
- Know who you will be with and where you will stay. Don’t show up without a plan in place.
- Have an alternative plan in the event of extreme weather/excessive rain.
- Know how and where to access emergency services at the event.
- Become familiar with the festival grounds so at any given time you know where you are.
- Have an emergency contact on standby in case you want to leave the event and a pre-arranged pickup point.