Soaring Police Costs Shutting Down A Public Event Near You

If big corporate events are feeling the squeeze, how can any smaller community event without corporate sponsorship possibly hope to keep up?

03/13/2018 09:51 EDT | Updated 03/13/2018 14:39 EDT

Policing costs for community events have skyrocketed in Vancouver and across Canada, forcing many local events to shut down.

Did you know that Vancouver's fun St. Patrick's Day Parade has been cancelled for the past two years because organizers can't afford to pay the high policing costs for their event? Vancouver used to have fun New Year's Eve event at the Art Gallery downtown, but it got cancelled because of the rising costs of policing. High policing costs almost killed Vancouver's annual Santa Claus Parade last year — the event was only saved with last-minute support from a major corporate sponsor.

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A police officer stands guard inside a fenced area where the Olympic flame burns in the cauldron during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 20, 2010 in Vancouver, B.C.

Going back a bit further, Vancouver used to have two amazing community events put on by a group called Public Dreams. Their Illuminares Lantern Festival at Trout Lake and their wonderful Halloween costumed community gathering called The Parade of Lost Souls were both beloved local traditions in East Vancouver. Unfortunately, as these events grew in popularity, the city and police demanded more and more money. Eventually, these grassroots community organizers were forced to shut down due to the city demanding they pay soaring policing, security and infrastructure costs.

Vancouver's Pride Parade also struggles with soaring policing bills. In 2010, their entire bill for police, sanitation, transit and park permits was $58,425. By 2016 the bill had more than doubled to $125,000, with the increase almost entirely due to higher policing costs. This unexpected jump in policing costs threatened to bankrupt the Vancouver Pride Society, and ultimately the city decided to forgive $75,000 of the debt from 2016, on top of the $59,000 in subsidies the Pride Society already receives from the city. Without this debt forgiveness, the Vancouver Pride Society would likely have been forced into bankruptcy.

If the Vancouver Pride Parade, an event whose dozens of corporate sponsors include major brands like TD Bank, Fido, Microsoft, Walmart and Bud Light, can't survive without substantial subsidies and debt forgiveness from the city, then how can any smaller community event without corporate sponsorship possibly hope to avoid to keep up with soaring police costs?

Event organizers have no voice in the decision, but they're often expected to foot the entire policing bill, no questions asked.

High police costs are a Canada-wide problem

This isn't just a problem in Vancouver. Events like Mississauga's Bread and Honey Festival and the Brampton Santa Claus Parade are also under threat of cancellation due soaring policing costs.

In Edmonton, events like the Pride Parade are also worried about rising costs forcing them to shut down. Every police officer at a public event in Edmonton receives double-time pay, plus a 30 per cent "administrative charge" on top of that. Like other cities, the police make their own decisions about how many officers they send to public events. Event organizers have no voice in the decision, but they're often expected to foot the entire policing bill, no questions asked.

The Edmonton Journal wrote a passionate editorial, saying "city costs shouldn't put festivals out of business" and declaring that popular civic events "are as much a part of the fabric of this city as its museums, libraries and sports venues."

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Vancouver police officers stand outside B.C. Place stadium before the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 Round 16 match between Switzerland and Canada June 21, 2015.

Yet while soaring city fees, mostly policing costs, are crushing grassroots public events, cities seem more inclined to throw much larger sums of money at elite sporting events. For example, in 2016 Edmonton had a budget of just $1.7 million to help put on all 49 of the city's local community events and festivals. Yet the city has no problem spending $1.2 million on the ITU World Triathlon, or another $1.2 million on FISE, the Festival International des Sports Extrêmes.

Just for one easy example in Vancouver, the city was happy to spend $1.2 million on a two-week all-ages beer garden downtown for 5,000 people to watch the FIFA Women's World Cup. The cost of this one event would have covered the combined policing costs for Pride, 4/20, the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the two Public Dreams festivals for at least three years

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However, the real city subsidy in Vancouver is to the bars and pubs on the Granville strip. Every year, Vancouver spends well over a million dollars in additional policing for just the Granville strip alone. Again, that's about five times the combined cost of Pride, 4/20, the cancelled St Patrick's Day Parade, and the two cancelled Public Dreams festivals. The pubs on the strip which sell the booze don't pay any of that policing cost. How does this make any sense?

There needs to be a better way. Either policing costs have to come down, or we need to accept that policing is a basic civic service, and that the policing cost of public events should be covered by the city as standard practice. The current system of shutting down some popular events, cancelling the unpayable debt for others, and then just writing off policing costs for others, really makes no sense, and needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

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