>> Monday, August 3, 2009
(Pleasre remember to comment after reading this. Any information on the happenings last night, or even words of encouragment are TRULY appreciated)
I just want to say thank you to all of you who have been showing concern for me following an incident that took place at CVR Entertaiment's Fire Fete earlier this morning. I am indeed yet in a lot of discomfort. As some of you know, and witnessed. I was sprayed in the face and eyes by an employee of a private security firm, hired to secure the stage area at one of the popular Toronto Carnival stage shows on Sunday night.
The pain continues, however, it is infinitely milder than in the moments following the initial incident, wherein, I lost my vision and felt was thought the skin on my neck, face, mouth and ears was being bitten up by and infestation of ants. In case, this is all new to you. Yes, I'm going to fill you in. I realise it's smart to put things in writing, especially since this is turning out to be a much more serious issue than I had thought at first.
I am posting this report on my blog for several reasons.
1. To address those expressing genuine concern to whom I'm not able to respond directly
2. To squash rumours
3. To extablish a written first hand account of my experience
4. To identify the perpetrator
5. To make known eye-witness to the unfortunate incident, whether in whole or in part
5. To compliment a police report that (I hope) was filed by a caucausian female officer from 51 division who refused to give me her name after I made my report in front of the venue shortly after 4 am.
6. To further connect with soca fans, and supports who know and appreciate my efforts to professionally expose the ins and outs of the soca business internationally through radio, online blogs, feature print articles, and on-camera work.
For your reference, I have provided a link to Wikipedia's article on "Pepper Spray"...the substance which I believe was used against me willfully and illegally, as an uneccesary restraint, as I posed no threat whatsoever to patrons, artistes or staff. Rather, I was attending the event with the full support of the promotional outfit...simple doing my job.
Please click for an explanation of the effects of the substance, including symptoms I experiences and in some cases continue to experience right now, about 6 hours after I was sprayed.
Below is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article that refers to the legal use of Pepper Spray and other such products here in Canada. If the copied information indeed presents factual information about the substance. It stands to reason, that I have a rightful legal claim against the contracted security agency and the employee who resorted to this barbaric assault without warning of any sort.
In Canada all products with a label containing the words pepper spray, mace, etc, or otherwise originally produced for use on humans are classified as a prohibited weapon. Only Peace Officers, and individuals/corporations who have special government permits may legally carry or possess pepper spray. Any similar canister with the labels reading "dog spray" and/or "bear spray" is regulated under the Pest Control Products Act - while legal to be carried by anyone, it is against the law if its use causes 'a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person' or harming the environment and carries a penalty up to a fine of $500,000 and jail time of maximum 3 years. Of course, the legality of using spray intended for animal deterent on a person would be determined in court on a case-by-case basis
For details on my account of the situation, continue reading below:
First things first. At the beginning of Fay Ann Lyons' performance at Fire Fete, I was approached by a security guard, likely in his 40's who asked me to move from the media/photographer's pit in front of the stage. I responded by showing the "gentlemen" (medium build, 5'10 to 6'1) my yellow all access wristband. He told me that the promoter, who he named, had asked him to clear everyone from the stage area. At the same time, Tee, a local event photographer who also does some work for Toronto-Lime dot com was standing quite close to me on a speaker box. She saw that there seemed to be a problem and told me to inform the guy that I was media. I had already done so, but I told him again after she had vouched for me.
The nameless "security" officer
My media clearance was confirmed via email sent from the promoter's iphone 5 days ago on July 28th. I have covered events at the same venue in the past and have never had any problems. So, I had no reason to think that I was to clear the area. Earlier the the show, a few mega-fans found their way into this secured area and were making it difficult for the photographer to get clear shots. Two young men in particular were waving flags and dancing around in there. I am quite sure that if the promoter/stage manager desired for action to be taken it would have been directed to those fellows. To my knowledge, they had all left the area shortly before the incident took place with yours truly.
Most people in the soca business can vouch, that I almost always walk with my business cards. I use these to make it easy for industry personalities to stay in touch with their news and happenings. When the aggressive security personnel began to give me problems, I presented him one of my cards. It bears a photograph of my face, and clearly reads; "Nurse Karen" ( Line 1) "Entertainment Journalist" (Line 2) followed by contact information. The reverse side of the card reads (Soca News from the Source) surrounded by a variety of links to online entities that either demonstrate my involvment in the field or provide additional methods of contact, i.e., blog address, msn address, podcast link, myspace link.
The card was swatted out of my hand. The guard began shouting "Move" repeatedly. At this point, I had backed up to the outside right hand corner of the front of the stage, having almost completely exited the area in dispute. The security officer picked up a long black item with his right hand. Initially, I thought it to be a walkie-talkie. I asked him if he was calling the promoter. (I used his name) Little did I know, at the time...that the officer has raised a cannister of what I believe to be mace or pepper spray. As I began to see the vapour heading directly for my line of sight, I closed my eyes tightly and turned to walk away. I remember seeing the officer depress the aerosol twice in succession. Fay Ann made comments on stage to the effect of security being rough (I don't recall her specific words, however there are likely several videos circulating with this footage. Also, several artists and show patrons after listening to my story believed it to be somehow connected to Fay Ann's comments on the stage.
A better look at the guy who ended my Caribana on a sour note
At first, the shock was greater than the pain. The first effect was respiratory, then a burning buzz began to develop on my lips. I ran to tell Gary Duarte, a section leader with Tribal Knights band. I dunno if he caught what I was saying, but when he didn't respond I began to make my way backstage. As I walked though a jumble of persons standing at the back right hand corner of the stage. I saw KMC, who may just arrived. We greeted eachother briefly as I told him what happened. The sting was rapidly intensifying. When I got backstage, I got quite angry. I shouted out aloud that I had been Pepper sprayed. Ravi B, Nisha B and Karma Band who were there.
Someone in the band suggested that I wash my face, to removed the chemicals. I did so in a green room sink. The water actually deepened the pain and spread the burning feeling further around my face and neck. My eyes burned with an indescribably pain. I clenched my eyes together tightly as hot tears seeped out incessantly. I began bouts of screaming. I didn't know how to make it stop. The pain continued to get worse rapidly for 20 or so minutes. I was unable to open my eyes for the pain, and when opened I could not see anything.
I really have to extend a deep word of thanks and deep respect and appreciation to Ravi and Nisha (who I met in person for the first time at Fire Fete). They treated me like gold.
I'm not sure who was saying or doing what at this point. However, I believe it was Nisha who asked if she could get anything for me. As my friends, ( who are all general patrons) where somewhere out in the crowd. I asked the female who was with me in the washroom to get Skinny Fabulous. We've known each other long before there was a "Nurse Karen" to speak of. I just wanted someone who actually knows me to be aware of what was going on. I still couldn't see. Even when Skinny arrived and was speaking to me, I was so out of it, I didn't realize who I was speaking to.
Paramedics were called to the backstage area. The first person who listened to me told me that security is not allowed to carry pepper spray. They cautioned me against putting water on my skin. They checked my eyes repeatedly, and commented on their redness. One of the women was visibly disgusted by the look of my eyes. I took Skinny Fabulous' towel and put it over my face, so as to cover my clenched tearful face.
Different people ensured me that they alerted event organizers. Several people asked me for a description of the culprit. I gave the description numorous times. However, I was told over and over that he could not be found and that no one knew who he was. Tee, the photographer I mentioned earlier eventually made it back stage and saw me, after most of the burning had moved out from my eyes.
I can go on with further details as the night was very long. Just a couple more things to mention at this point.
I gave this account to the paramedic, as well as Alex Miller who works providing security with the venue. He took me aside to tell me that the person responsible was additional security hired by the promoter to deal with the stage area. He took all my contact information..and assured me that he would be finding out the name of the outside security company that was used. He says, that following an incident such as the one I've described, the two teams can not continue to work together. The use of excessive force on a non-combative member of the media, would not be condoned.
My contact details, date of birth, and street address was provided for the paramedic whose name I can't remember (blonde, female) and for Mr. Miller. They were both understanding and friendly. Eventually a couple of my friends were permitted to meet me backstage, to meet me and carry me home. Much of the stinging and redness had dissipated from my eyes, however as it spread, my skin appeared to become reddened and irritated. Even as I continue to write at 9:33 am, it seems as though my eyes have begun to sting again from remnants of the substance that may be in my eyelashes.
That's all for now. I likely won't share any more of this on Nurse Karen Etc. However, when the matter was brought to the attention of the Toronto Police, it was initially handled with a total disregard for my security or the severity of the matter. I will be attempting to launch a complaint about the officer who turned his back on me and walked away after I had asked him about the process of filing a report.
I still feel the stinging. After reading some of the information about pepper spray online, I will attempt bathing in baby shampoo to remove this from my skin. I will be visiting my local division to ensure that an official report has been filed. I will also be looking for an open medical clinic ( even though it's a holiday Monday). My lips are very swollen this morning, and the skin on the left side of my neck, chest and shoulders feels raw and bumpy.
Thanks to everyone who assisted me. You are greatly appreciated. This situation could have been so much worse without you. I feel blessed to know that there are people who are so kind and caring in critical times. If I miss names, I apologize. In some cases it's because I have forgotten your name. However, I would like to take the time to acknowledge those who come to mind. I pray that God adds you blessings, as you continue to give from the heart, loving one another as God first loved you.
Love and respect to: Tee, Ravi B, Nisha B, Skinny Fabulous, Andrea, Colleen, Kevin Browne, Dr. Jay
As this was happening it brought to mind several trying experiences that have dotted my career in entertainment journalism. The fight for respect is a constant uphill battle. Of the years, I have contually been surprised by both the strangers who have sacrificed much to assist me, and the supposed close allies who at times present the greatest barriers to my success.
About 7 hours ago, I posted the following on twitter and facebook:
Pepper spray in my eyes. of all the disrespect i've ever endured in this biz, this is the worst. dunno if being nurse karen is worth this.
Several of you responded with an outpouring of love. You have no idea what those words mean to me. I love the work that I am blrssed to be able to do. I see such talent and potential in our music and our Caribbean people, I want to be a part of helping us as people reach our highest height. So thanks from the bottom of my heart for believing in me, and always encouraging me to look past the troubles to the bigger picture!
Love and Soca,
P.S. If you wanna help, here's what you can do.
1. If you witnessed this. Please go to the police. I know that's not popular in our community. However, I believe that punitiva action must be taken. The security guard used a banned substance that is known to cause permanent damage to some victims and has been linked to the death of some victims
2. Identify the security guard for me. I want to be sure that his employers are aware of what took place. At this point, I have to trust that someone else is taking care of it. No one was forthcoming with a name for this man. (I snapped the above photos of him as I was leaving the venue. So, he did not leave when people where saying so. I have reason to believe that some persons were protecting his identity.
3. Tell me something good. This had me really shaken. Writing about it is helping a lot, but more than that...knowing you're there, sending positive vibes...that goes a long way.
Love you all! ...and thanks!