It was booked at the Vernon Recreation Centre as an alcohol-free high school student dance party.
The Saturday night three-hour party was part of a ski trip package to Big White for students from the Lower Mainland, lined up by the Vancouver branch of a Toronto-based company that has been booking such trips for students since 1976.
The party, according to Vernon RCMP, was more of a rave-style event with evidence pointing to plenty of drug use amongst the approximate 800 party-goers.
“RCMP and City of Vernon bylaw officers attended the rec centre at 1 a.m. Sunday over a concern of extremely intoxicated youth they had encountered while on patrols around the vicinity,” said Vernon RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk.
“Our officers who attended the party encountered a large rave-style deejay-ed event complete with glow sticks, candy soothers and copious quantities of bottled water being consumed, and a gathering of several hundred moderately to extremely intoxicated teens and young adults.”
Glow sticks, candy soothers and bottled water are all items that police say can be associated with ecstacy use.
At the event, officers noticed empty baggies consistent with drug use, as well, unconsumed pills resembling ecstacy and ketamine were found on the floor.
Molendyk said several youth told officers there was “a lot” of ecstacy use at the party.
Molendyk said four “extremely intoxicated (high)” young people were found in the event’s medical room, one of them “barely conscious.” Ambulances were called to deal with the medical concerns of the young individual.
The party was shut down by RCMP and party-goers were waiting for a bus to return them to Kelowna. A problem arose when not enough buses were available so two trips had to be made. Those students who did not get on a bus the first time were escorted back into the rec centre.
No damage was done to the facility, which had been booked from 9 p.m. to midnight for the party. The City of Vernon said RCMP and bylaw officers were aware of the event, and that bylaw officers were present during the party.
“Organizers were supplied prior to the event with all of our security and insurance requirements. They met all of the criteria,” said Doug Ross, director of recreation services for the City of Vernon. “They said their security requirements went beyond what we were requesting. Unfortunately, it appears that they did not carry through on all of their security measures that they had in place.”
Alexander Handa is a spokesperson for S-Trip!, the company which booked the Big White trip and the party at the rec centre as part of the trip package. Handa said he was at the party, checking out S-Trip!’s Western programs.
Handa said the RCMP did “a great job,” and that security measures were in place. His company uses a Kelowna-based security firm with a very solid reputation, and has used the firm for the past five years.
“The security guards were well trained and in place, and the number of guards we said would be in place were in place,” said Handa.
The security firm provided two paramedics for the party, and Handa said his company sets up medical rooms at all of its events.
Students were given two security checks prior to being allowed in the party. They were patted down as they entered the bus in Kelowna, and patted down again by security guards before they entered the rec centre. Handa has no idea how the drugs got into the facility, but adamantly denied his company endorsed the idea of the party-goers doing drugs.
“I’ll put my foot down and vehemently say no,” said Handa. “We contact police right away if we catch people doing drugs. I’ll admit we didn’t have the right strategy in place Saturday night to know that many people would take drugs.”
Trip participants have a non-removable bracelet to identify them. To Handa’s knowledge there were no students from the Vernon area at the party.
Handa said his company always provides a deejay and free water, and energy drinks and pop at its events, and the glow sticks were part of the party’s theme of “Tight and Bright,” a reference to 1980s-style ski-wear. He said his company did not provide the candy soothers.
Handa said his company cooperated with police when asked to shut down the event, but that bus arrivals are usually staggered between 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.
“We had school buses that cycled the students back to the hotel,” he said, when asked about not enough buses being available when the party was closed down. “We can’t abruptly shut down and have 700 to 800 people flow out of the facility. We need to do something with them. It’s the middle of winter.
“We’re going to start winding down faster, get the students on buses and get them home.”
Asked if a facility in Kelowna was available for the party, Handa said no, not for that many people.
The ski package cost students between $300 and $400.
As a result of the weekend incident, the Vernon Rec Centre will no longer take bookings for third-party teen dances.