Additional criticism of Stone Mills Township hosting the Hyperborea arts festival was lobbied toward council this Monday, but the controversial event will go on near Camden East May 17-21.
At council’s regular meeting in Centreville, Monday, Bethel Road resident Andrew Michalski took the municipality to task for allowing a special events permit for the four-day event on a township property on Doyle Road. Specifically he took aim at reports the event includes explicit sexual activity.
“Council has rightly insisted that this is an adults-only event, but it does raise the question, then, why are we encouraging adult entertainment in Stone Mills?” Michalski asked. “Proximity to adult entertainment decreases property values and sense of community.”
According to Michalski, more than 50 residents attended an April 23 public meeting in Camden East to hear from the event’s organizers and township staff about the festival.
He came away from that event believing most residents were opposed and that one community inherited another’s problem.
“The debate revealed council has transferred a wedge issue from Tamworth to Camden East. It pits neighbour against neighbour and friend against friend.”
Michalski also derided council by stating the event made the community “an object of ridicule in the rest of Ontario” with an event that is “synonymous with sex tourism.”
He questioned whether council had done its due diligence about the history of the organization proposing the festival and the previous experience it has. Also, Michalski noted that Hyperborea organizers missed a township-imposed deadline to have insurance in place by one day and that he was also concerned it would be serving food and alcoholic beverages without proper permitting.
Referencing a recent newsletter from the organizers, Michalski made mention of the Thirsty Beaver Lounge and Grill, which would serve beverages, food and snacks to help volunteers decompress. He said Kingston-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington Public Health was not made aware of food service and no special occasions alcohol permit was obtained through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.
“In summary, council has not shown how such an event helps families and helps the people of Stone Mills Township. Due process has not bee followed, particularly in the failure of Hyperborea to submit the required insurance within the time limit specified by township bylaw… The appearance of distribution and alcohol contrary to terms of the public health unit and Alcohol and Gaming Commission also deserve investigation.”
Deputy reeve John Wise defended the decision to host the festival.
“The inference or direct accusation the festival is primarily about explicit sexual activities is a gross exaggeration of reality,” he said. “The suggestion the organizers referred to anything of that nature as an integral part of the festival is not what I heard them say.”
Wise said he heard about only one tent last year — which was offering information about bondage knots — that related to a sexual activity, and even then, the discussion was more about the knots. He likened the festival to a flea market where organizers don’t necessarily control the activities.
“Most of the participants are doing art, they’re building sculptures, or they’re doing music. They’re doing food tents and skits. If for any reason I thought we were facilitating some kind of orgy, I would not have given any support or approval to the special events permit,” he said. “It’s primarily and almost entirely what it suggests it will be: An arts festival. Because of certain moral concerns, I made the motion to restrict this to 18 and up because originally it was going to be an all-ages festival.”
Wise said any sexual activity at the festival would be between consenting adults in private and added that other festivals, including a well-known country music jamboree, have high complaint rates for sexual harassment themselves. Given the admission fee, he didn’t feel many locals would go to see the sex.
“It’s $100 to get in. I hardly think too many local youth are going to be forking over $100 on the off chance they might get to see someone take their shirt off.”
Wise did ask for clarification on the legalities of the insurance certification.
Chief administrative officer Bryan Brooks stated the Hyperborea organizers offered proof of insurance early in the application process, but the insurance related to the original Carroll Road site. Any delays, he felt, related to the move to Doyle Road. Brooks also said he was satisfied council was covered for any potential liability, noting “their insurance is far greater than any other event we’ve approved, at least in my experience with the township.”
Councillor Martha Embury said there were three issues in Michalski’s presentation that caused her concern — the date the insurance policy was finalized and the potential for food and alcohol distribution.
Embury felt the township should have held firm on its April 17 deadline to meet the insurance requirement.
“The policy was issued April 18. That’s one day after our drop-dead date. According to this, they should be disallowed from having the event. All the information was to be in, they knew that.”
Brooks reaffirmed his interpretation was that Hyperborea was compliant as it had insurance in place well before the application came forward. He also said a precedent was set last year when the township allowed insurance coverage for the 2017 event to be approved four days before the event. Following that, he said a certificate exists now for the Doyle Road site and no other organizations had raised any issues about the festival.
Embury said she hoped the township would improve its process.
“It’s like dealing with kids. We’re not going to change things unless we put our foot down and we follow the bylaws.”
Councillor Doug Davison inferred it was time to move forward.
“I’m not going to belabour this. I don’t think anyone is going to change their opinion here around this table about what is right and wrong, but we do see some concerned citizens here tonight.”
Davison said he feels there isn’t much point downplaying the sexual aspect of the festival because people know it exists. He also noted that it isn’t the entire problem, but rather, it’s the public’s opportunity to provide input.
“We need to remember that the next time something gets moved. Nobody had the opportunity to discuss it or to object because they didn’t know it was coming,” he said, adding he hopes this year’s event will end the controversy.
“I hope it works out really well this summer for all of us, I really hope it does.”