and Sean Allen
After nearly a week of hope, confusion and controversy, Hockeyfest 2012 has been postponed until further notice.
Hockeyfest organizer Ralph Spoltore made the announcement during a press conference on Wednesday morning at the Best Western Brant Park Inn.
“We got our knees cut out from underneath us six days prior to our show starting,” Spoltore said. “It is that simple.”
The future of Hockeyfest was first thrown into doubt last Saturday, when the Grand River Conservation Authority issued a press release saying Brant Conservation Area would not host the three-day music festival as planned from Friday to Sunday due to safety and security concerns expressed by the Brantford Police Service.
Police posted a media release to the service’s website on Saturday saying that Hockeyfest “organizers missed critical deadlines and failed to meet the requirements to ensure there was an acceptable level of security that would ensure the safety of all people attending, volunteering or working at the event.”
The Brantford Police Service informed Spoltore on Saturday morning about its concerns. The police position led the GRCA to withdraw Brant Conservation Area as the festival venue.
Brantford Mayor Chris Friel said it was decided that the festival was a major safety concern during a meeting on Friday between officials from the Brantford Police Service, County of Brant OPP, Brantford Fire Department, Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and GRCA. Hockeyfest organizers were not present at the meeting.
With a lack of police support for Hockeyfest and the festival’s future uncertain, Friel was thrust into the controversy, trying to broker an agreement between organizers and the police.
By Monday evening, Friel believed he had secured a tentative agreement that would see Hockeyfest go on at Brant Conservation Area with the support of police. But that tentative agreement fell through on Tuesday, prompting the GRCA and city police to issue a new round of media releases.
“Hockeyfest 2012 organizers had months to provide plans and commit to a level of acceptable security and safety, yet failed to do so,” the release from the Brantford Police Service stated. “Brant County Ambulance was not under contract to provide emergency medical assistance for the event. Based on their agreement with Hockeyfest organizers, both private EMS and Star Security (the company contracted for Hockeyfest security) could not confirm that they would be providing services over the duration of the event.
“The Brantford Fire Department had only received the fire plan (on Monday) and identified that it does not meet the provisions of the Ontario Fire Code. Further, the Ontario Provincial Police were not under contract to provide services for the parking area and road closures that fall within their jurisdiction.”
The GRCA on Tuesday confirmed its position that Brant Conservation Area would not serve as the festival venue.
“The GRCA took steps to terminate its contract with Hockeyfest (last Friday),” the GRCA press release stated. “Since then, a variety of emergency agencies, municipal politicians and the GRCA have engaged in efforts to satisfy concerns they have about the safety of those attending Hockeyfest.
“(On Tuesday), all public emergency organizations that would be involved in this event met with the private security and paramedic firms designated by the Hockeyfest organizer. The promoter had not made satisfactory arrangements with providers of public emergency services. There is not sufficient time to resolve these issues before the scheduled start of the festival on Friday.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Spoltore said the decisions made by police and GRCA were based on incorrect information.
“Due to some what I would call miscommunication and meetings without us being present, or our security team being present, there were some decisions made that were based on erroneous information,” Spoltore said. “We have done everything in our power to make this event go. We’ve had a security plan in place for months that has not wavered, has not changed.”
In a last-ditch effort to save the music festival, Spoltore hatched a plan that would have seen Hockeyfest held at the Ohsweken Speedway on Saturday and Sunday.
“As of last night, we had an understanding for a new home for Hockeyfest,” Spoltore said on Wednesday. “Based on what I’ve been told, based on some phone calls between police services this morning, that venue has been pulled from us as well.”
Six Nations Police Const. Derrick Anderson confirmed that the First Nations police service would not provide security for a festival at Ohsweken Speedway.
“I talked to our deputy chief and he advised me that it was a manpower issue,” Anderson said. “For the amount of people coming through here, it would have been overwhelming for our officers. Ensuring officer safety and community safety, with that amount of people here and trying to put something together that quickly, would have been difficult.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Spoltore declined to speak about the status of any contracts with the GRCA or emergency service agencies.
“That is something I have been advised not to speak of by my attorney,” Spoltore said. “Those are some issues…that I have to be very careful about.”
With Hockeyfest postponed, Spoltore said tickets purchased would “be honoured at a later date.”
TicketScene.ca, which was the major online ticket vendor for the festival, issued a statement on Tuesday saying it has every intention to attempt to refund tickets for those wanting their money back.
“Hockeyfest has been postponed and your tickets will be honoured when the event is rescheduled,” TicketScene posted on Facebook. “However, (TicketScene) has every intention to refund your tickets should you wish a refund. We please ask that you be patient over the next few days as we begin this process.”
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Friel said he stands behind the GRCA’s decision to withdraw the use of Brant Conservation Area.
“I fully support the decision of the GRCA,” Friel said. “The event organizer needed to put forward plans necessary to ensure the safety of the public at Hockeyfest. It is truly unfortunate that, despite repeated efforts by the officials responsible for ensuring public safety, the organizer never produced satisfactory emergency plans that would provide adequate protection of the public.
“As much as we regret the cancellation of this event, our first priority is the health, safety and welfare of citizens and visitors of Brantford.”