Folk on the Rocks organizers are reviewing a vaccination requirement in place for this year's annual outdoor music festival in Yellowknife.
Festival executive and artistic director Carly McFadden said organizers are launching an online survey next week to get feedback from ticket holders, sponsors, vendors and volunteers.
The festival runs from July 15-17, and this year will require everyone over the age of five to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or medical exemption.
The vast majority of N.W.T. businesses and organizations lifted their vaccine passport requirements this spring. The public health emergency in the N.W.T. was lifted on April 1, and on Monday, the federal government says it will lift restrictions on domestic air and rail travel for people who are not vaccinated.
This is the first year the festival has required any sort of vaccine passport.
"Last year we knew when we hosted the festival that it wasn't quite available, that everyone that attended could have been fully vaccinated at that time. But also the territory had been a lot more closed off when we hosted last year's festival," McFadden said.
"Even December 2021, which is when our tickets went on sale, was a really different time than it is now. Omicron was kind of taking over and we really felt this was the best way to keep our community safe and ensure that we'd be able to have a festival that didn't turn into a super-spreader event."
McFadden says even with the new vaccine requirement, ticket sales are up 40 per cent from previous years.
"We're seeing a lot of out-of-territory ticket sales," McFadden says.
Didn't want to 'jump the gun'
She says the festival's board of directors had been discussing a review of the policy the last few months but decided to wait until they knew what the COVID-19 situation in the N.W.T. looked like this summer.
Last week, a post on a popular Yellowknife Facebook group complaining about the festival's vaccine policy spurred dozens of comments criticizing the decision. McFadden said the festivals also received "lots" of messages in the last week regarding the policy.
"We've been talking about it all spring, but we didn't want to jump the gun on reviewing or changing until we really felt like we had a better handle on what July was going to look like. We're feeling right now like things look like they're opening up and going to stay open," McFadden said.
"We've all learned for the last couple of years, none of us can tell what's going to happen next or things can change really fast. But, you know, we're feeling okay in terms of making those kinds of decisions at this point in the game."
'I don't think it's needed anymore'
Longtime festival volunteer Dave Heron said he won't be volunteering this year if the policy doesn't change.
"I think the vaccine passport was a good idea for when it was needed. I don't think it's needed anymore and whether or not a person gets vaccinated is their own personal choice," Heron told CBC.
Yellowknife's Mitchel Rankin agrees.
"Given where we're at with COVID now, and restrictions have lifted quite a bit for other things in the city. For example you can go to bingo and not have to wear a mask and not have to be vaccinated and it's an indoor event where people are sitting face to face. Contrast that with Folk on the Rocks where it's outdoors," Rankin said.
"It's a great community event that a lot of people want to attend … I want it to be inclusive for everybody."
McFadden said the festival will send out online surveys on Monday and will collect feedback until June 24. She says an announcement on whether the policy will be changed should come the week of June 27.
McFadden says if the board does decide to do away with its current vaccine mandate, current ticket holders unhappy with the decision can get a full refund.