by Liam Harrap
When you step into the RCMP office in Atlin, British Columbia, you’ll notice it’s quiet. No endless phone calls, no chitter chatter, no endless lines. Just the smiling receptionist Kathy sitting at a desk. And that’s the office at the beginning of the busiest weekend of the year - the Atlin Arts and Music Festival.
Atlin, a town with a population around 200 rapidly swells to more than 2000 over night. Cars and tents line the streets, the ATMs run out of cash, and even ditches become prime camping real-estate.
“There’s usually not a great deal of calls for police service here,” said Don Rodgers, a retired RCMP officer from Whitehorse, who got called into work the weekend.
Atlin usually has three police officers, but during the festival they bring in three more to ensure safety. A couple of the extra officers come from Terrace, a two-day drive away. The visiting police also allows Atlin to advertise itself.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase Atlin for future postings. If they like it, perhaps they’ll come and work here one day,” said Rodgers.
The festival also has a large security team to help keep law and order.
Darcy Laliberty, head of festival security, gave a heavy sigh as he sat down and lit a hand-rolled cigarette. It was the first rest he’s had in awhile.
“I’ve been awake well over 24 hours,” said Laliberty.
“We gotta do, what we gotta do to keep the festival going.”
It’s mayhem having 2000 people descend, said Laliberty, but with diligence and good volunteers it works. The festival has over 220 total volunteers, of that over half are security, who check wristbands at entrances and help people park. The festival also has 12 paid security positions.
It’s Laliberty’s second year working on security, and so far the worst incident was solved with pouring out a rowdy gentlemen’s beer and putting it in recycling.
As ticket holders enter the festival grounds, they pass a vibrant sign that clearly state the consequences if there’s trouble, “Free RCMP escort out of BC for entry without a festival pass.”
While some may think the sign is a joke, Laliberty ensures it isn’t.
“That will absolutely happen. If you’re acting up and causing trouble, we have a great police force here. Everyone knows everyone. Wade the cop, is going down to get his milk and coffee with everyone else. We’ll find you.”
However, Laliberty says he cannot remember ever calling the police for a free escort. Most of the issues can be solved without a badge and uniform.
“Today there was a very small child that cut his finger on a pop can and a lady who was having an allergic reaction. We got first aid and nipped it in the butt.”
While we spoke, a fluorescent security vest approached, mumbled something and Laliberty galloped away saying, “Gotta go put out another fire!” In a blink, he was gone.
No rest for the weary – or the head of security.
The Atlin Music Festival -- like all festivals -- does have some problems with drugs and drinking. However, Paol Davis, a security guard in charge of traffic says the consequences of doing them at Atlin are higher.
“It’s going to be hours and hours to get to a capable hospital from here. That should discipline how people live their lives, but it doesn’t. Sadly. But we’ll have clear traffic lanes so help can arrive,” said Davis.
Davis patrols the festival on his bicycle, cruising and circling the grounds and keeping an eye out for trouble. Before talking with me, he had an issue with some folks illegally camping, but it turned out he used to be “the troublemakers’ teacher in school.” So they moved their tent after having a talking-to from Mr. Davis.
Everyone is connected in the north, so if you cause trouble, most people will know who you are and where to find you when the music ends. The neighbouring tents may be the exact same neighbours at home.