National News

Police investigate concert deaths

By Abdul Latheef, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Toronto police are trying to determine what drugs may have been consumed by two people who died and 13 others who were sickened at a weekend music festival, but some of the recovering victims are not even sure what they took.

A 20-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man who attended the Veld Music Festival in Downsview Park died after it's believed they took party drugs purchased at the concert, police said.

Investigators had earlier urged anyone who may have bought drugs at the festival to hand them over so experts can analyze the substances. A small brown pill and a small clear capsule containing a white substance have been turned in, but police are still urging others to come forward.

"I need to get my hands on these pills so I can get them tested," Det.-Sgt. Peter Trimble said at a news conference Tuesday.

The 13 people who fell ill at the concert are expected to make full recoveries and some have already been released from hospital, he said. But it's not yet clear what all of them consumed, Trimble said.

"Unfortunately some of these people didn't even know what they were taking," he said. "We had some people taking upwards of 10 pills, some people picking up pills on the ground."

Several of the recovering victims reported having seizures, as well as a "general feeling of unwellness," becoming pale and feeling faint, Trimble said.

Police are hoping toxicology tests on the two deceased victims will provide a cause of death. The homicide squad is investigating because a "criminal act" has taken place, Trimble said.

Investigators are also appealing for anyone who attended the festival to upload photos and video from the concert to the Toronto police website. Trimble said the images will help police in what he called a large-scale investigation.

"These images or these videos may seem inconsequential to you, but they might be very important to me," Trimble said.

More than 30,000 tickets to the concert were sold and police will be speaking to the promoters, he said.

The Special Investigations Unit, which investigates all cases of death, serious injury and allegations of sexual assault that involve police, is looking into the death of the 22-year-old man. The arm's-lengthy agency has said police spotted the man being carried by two people and called for an ambulance, but he became violent while paramedics were working on him.

The man was placed in handcuffs, which were removed inside the ambulance, but the man was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital, the SIU has said.

Trimble said the investigation will also look at security measures surrounding such events.

"I've never dealt with any type of investigation out of a rave before, but that will be things that my team will be looking at," he said.

Mayor Rob Ford defended granting licences for big outdoor events, saying safety is the responsibility of promoters of such events.

"Are we going to cancel every festival ... are we going to cancel all the concerts? No, I’m not in favour of doing all that," he told reporters.

"If you have a party at your house and someone dies in your house it’s your responsibility. It’s the permit holder's responsibility."

Ford said what happened was traumatic and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

"I don’t know how I would deal with losing my son or my daugthter," he said.

Dr. David Juurlink, a drug-safety expert at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said the festival deaths are in part a reflection of the uncertainty about what a drug user is getting.

"You really don't have assurances about what exactly you are getting," Juurlink said.

"That means that there can be contaminants in the drug, it can mean that you are getting a different drug than what you expected to get or it can mean the amount of the drug you are getting is more or less than what you expected and people can become very sick and/or die from any of those reasons."

The Veld festival deaths were the latest drug-related deaths at concerts in Canada.

Early on Saturday, a 24-year-old Alberta woman died of suspected drug overdose at the Boonstock Music and Arts Festival in Penticton, B.C.

Police also confirmed that at least a dozen others were treated for overdoses.

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