May long weekend...a work in progress 

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It would be easy to just throw up our hands and say there's no apparent solution to our May long weekend issues.

This year we spent $290,000 on a new festival to try and change the vibe of the weekend, and we still had some serious, violent incidents thanks to some of our out-of-town visitors.

Yes, last year we had a roving band of youth, which vandalized property — and we abhor that — but the level of violence was quite low.

Now this year, we had groups of youth face off outside a home in the Bayshores neighbourhood, an alleged slashing at a nightclub, some sort of bloody incident in the Upper Village and at least one confirmed stabbing.

The boosted police force dealt with all the incidents in a timely fashion, as well as de-escalating others — but nevertheless the weekend headlines about the festival were still about violence and not about fun.

Added to the frustration around this is the fact that the victims, and the alleged perpetrators of the violence, refused to cooperate with law enforcement.

The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from this is that these groups are known to each other, have a history of police involvement, and retaliation and not ratting out others is part of the pattern.

What is hard to comprehend is why these groups of Lower Mainland youths come here? This is an outdoor Mecca. Yes, we have some great clubs and the vibe is fun, and parties are part of our mountain culture, but what is the attraction of Whistler?

Is it just habit to have the rumble here each May long weekend?

No one said that hosting a new festival like the GO Fest would change things overnight, and there is no doubt that many who enjoyed the offerings thought it a great addition to the weekend.

But at least initially it seems to have had little effect on the plain rudeness and vulgarity of the roving bands of youth, and their increasingly belligerent behaviour as night fell.

In previous years concerns were voiced about how offering cheap room rates was encouraging youths to come and stay.

Anecdotally we hear that's what happened, along with parents checking their kids into a hotel and heading home to Vancouver. It looks like some of the problem elements have also taken to renting homes and condos in neighbourhoods.

It's not realistic to expect a festival to change things overnight. It will take years to change the perception of what a May long weekend is all about in Whistler. Part of that must be reaching out to the Lower Mainland in marketing campaigns to let people know what's planned. This year the marketing budget was approximately $44,000 and included design and creative, media buys, public relations, website, email/database, social media and photography. The primary target market was regional.

The Festivals Events & Animation program also invests $120,000 in marketing Whistler, which Tourism Whistler matches and invests to leverage certain events. Tourism Whistler invested approximately $30,000 in marketing GO Fest to attract visitors to Whistler.

It's a dilemma — we survive and thrive on guests from the Lower Mainland and beyond, but at the same time we can't hide from the fact that there is a segment of these visitors who appear to be coming here and bringing their problems with them.

And these roving bands of troublemakers only serve to reinforce people's fears, illustrating just how thin the line is between anarchy and chaos while unfortunately fuelling racial stereotypes. You only need to take a look at Facebook comments to see the finger pointing at the South East Asian community.

It is just these types of incidents that the May Long Weekend Committee, made up of Sue Chappel, Community Member at Large, Andy Flynn, Food & Beverage Industry, Stephen Webb, Hotel Association of Whistler, Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair, RCMP, John Grills, Whistler Municipal Council and Norm McPhail, general manager RMOW gathered together to strategize about.

Though the minutes for most of the public meetings are not available on the RMOW website, in a report to council May 6 we learned that:

• Police presence in and around nightclubs was to be planned in collaboration with door staff and police were to monitor house parties;

• Accommodation providers were to have crime-prevention strategies;

• And private security was to be used to assist with problems associated with accommodations providers with unsupervised minors and problem guests.

In February, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said of GO Fest: "This is the start of something big and important, I am confident of that.

"(This will) allow us to bring that weekend back to the community."

Let's not let the violence of this May long weekend define us. The GO Fest was a success for a first-year event. The concerts were fun and for the most part well attended, the activities were well organized and pretty popular and, at least during the day and early evening, visitors and locals alike were having a great time.

Let's not forget that "Rome wasn't built in a day."

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