The general manager of what’s called “the largest South Asian youth event in Canada” hopes the City of Surrey can help offset more than $20,000 in policing costs, or the summer event may have to move elsewhere.
Trouble is, tickets were sold for last spring’s “5X Block Party” at Holland Park, making the event ineligible for financial help.
The eight-hour concert was the largest gathering of the week-long 5X Festival, planned by Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration (VIBC), a charity founded in 2004.
In December, event manager Harpreet (Harpo) Mander was surprised to receive a $20,911 invoice from the City of Surrey for policing costs, for what she calls “mediocre service.”
The bill details 13 hours of work for 10 RCMP members at $153.20 per hour, with no charge for a mobile command unit or meals. The hourly rate is “an inclusive cost that accounts for all related expenses involved in deploying an officer to work a special event,” according to Surrey RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Vanessa Munn.
Starting at $30, tickets were sold for the daytime event on June 11, with free admission during the evening hours. Close to 2,000 people attended on June 11, according to Mander, who tweeted her displeasure with the policing bill.
As most of you know, I’m General Manager for 5X Fest. For our 2022 fest, the @SurreyRCMP charged us $20,000 FOR ONE EVENT. See invoice attached pic.twitter.com/xeiuipXW4T
— harpo (@harpokm) January 25, 2023
“Our festival has a really good track record, going back to 2004,” Mander told the Now-Leader. “We don’t serve alcohol and we haven’t had a history of safety problems, but there was a big police presence (at June’s Block Party).
“Although we respect public safety and security, this bill was absolutely absurd,” she posted to social media.
In collaboration with Surrey’s Festival and Support Team (FEST) and event organizers, the number of RCMP and security personnel required for such events is determined by RCMP.
Mander says the City of Vancouver has grant opportunities to help cover the cost of event policing, “but we don’t get that kind of support from the City of Surrey,” she charged.
“We intentionally brought the Block Party event from Vancouver to Surrey, and we still program some events in Vancouver. I think if barriers like these persist, we might have to go back to Vancouver, but we really want to stay in Surrey, but barriers like this are really hard for us to program (events) in Surrey.”
Surrey brought in a Policing Grant program in 2015 “to reduce the burden of policing costs borne by community groups for events, parades and festivals that provide free admission for the public,” according to the city’s Parks, Recreation & Culture department.
The grant program covers 50 per cent of policing costs, to a maximum of $55,000.
“5X Block Party was awarded this policing grant in 2019 when the event was free and open to the public,” the parks department said in a written statement. “In 2022, the majority of the 5X Block Party was a ticketed event and closed to the public, which makes them ineligible to apply as it no longer meets the Policing Grant program requirements.”
In a phone call, Mander described the RCMP presence at June’s Block Party.
“They actually came and parked a big base, a trailer, near the stage,” Mander recalled. “It just didn’t make sense for the size of crowd we had. I didn’t see that many officers walking on the grounds, they were mostly backstage taking pictures with our artists, taking selfies with them. Yeah, we were laughing at that, like, ‘These are the people supposed to protect us?’ You know, they were backstage hanging on their phones. It didn’t feel like they were there to enforce, and I think the RCMP definitely want to come to community events like that to be, like, friendly and do the community stuff, more PR (public relations).
“People in BIPOC communities are really distrustful of institutions like the RCMP, and I mean, if you bring a base like that to an event that doesn’t need to be policed as heavily, you’re actually increasing the discomfort among attendees.”
In response, Surrey RCMP’s Munn said in the six months following the June event, Surrey RCMP “was not made aware of any concerns raised by event organizers about the service provided by police during their block party.”
Munn said there was a portion of the event (VIP area) that served alcohol, and that “police did not have a large trailer at the event, there was a community engagement van.”
“To provide some additional context,” Munn added, “the application for this event, received in February 2022, projected up to 10,000 attendees. In May 2022, event organizers lowered the projected number to 4,000, however given the large capacity of the venue and that the gates were being opened to the general public, the numbers were ambiguous.”
Pre-pandemic, the 2019 5X Fest Block Party in Surrey featured performances by Mickey Singh, Raja Kumari and others at Central City Plaza, with thousands in attendance. Rapper Sidhu Moose Wala was pulled from the lineup last-minute, due to safety concerns voiced by Surrey RCMP. Three years later, last May, Moose Wala (born Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu) was shot dead in his native India, in an apparent gang-related hit.
For the 2022 Block Party at Holland Park, Mander said the organization was told that cost estimates for policing could not be sent prior to the event.
“So we get this bill several months later,” she said. “It’s hard because organizations like 5X, we’re publicly funded and a lot of our funding does support the artists and to put on the shows. With the rising cost of production and labour, it becomes increasingly hard for us to program and for festivals like ours to exist. We saw what happened with the Vancouver Folk (Music) Festival being cancelled. “For us, we might not be able to put on event like this if the costs remain high. The biggest piece here is our fear of not being able to do the work we want to do.”
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