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Whistler RCMP prepare for First Night

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Road checks planned to limit alcohol coming into village

If Whistler’s Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider has any advice to offer revellers for ringing in the New Year it would be to get there early.

The New Year’s Eve road checks in Whistler start at 6 p.m. this year and will continue until 11:30 p.m. and they are guaranteed to slow down traffic into the village.

There will be one check south of the village, at Panorama Drive, and one north of the village at Nicklaus North.

"If they want to come, they have to come early and sober," Haider said at Monday’s council meeting.

The road checks are essentially designed to reduce the amount of liquor coming into the village for First Night – Whistler’s alcohol-free New Year’s Eve event.

During the checks police will be looking for three things. Drunk drivers will be top of the list, as well as any vehicles with defects. But they will also be checking for liquor in cars. These checks are pursuant with the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, said Haider.

"If it is being transported inappropriately, it’ll be seized," he said after the council meeting.

If groups are heading up from Vancouver and they cannot provide police with a destination point of where they will be that night, their alcohol will be confiscated.

"The destination cannot be Whistler Village," he said.

Haider suggests getting alcohol to your chosen destination in the days leading up to New Year’s to avoid this problem.

For people planning to come into the village by bus that night, there will be a "meet and greet" party of police waiting at the Fitzsimmons bus loop to check for any alcohol in backpacks. If alcohol is found in the packs, it will be taken away.

There will be no inbound buses to the village between 10 p.m. and midnight.

The idea behind these First Night preparations is to limit the number of people drinking in the village streets, getting rowdy and ruining the evening for families and children.

"We’re there to ensure that it’s a family environment, that everyone has fun and that it’s safe," said Haider.

Police have adopted a zero tolerance policy.

They will be advertising on the radio and at universities in the Lower Mainland that this is an alcohol-free event.

"We’re going to be prepared," said Haider.

Whistler’s police force will be reinforced with 80 additional officers from the Lower Mainland to help them control the event. Haider said they will be a highly visible presence in the village.

About the same number of police were brought in last year to help out with the event.

One major factor will be working in their favour this year. New Year’s Eve falls on a Tuesday night and so that may dissuade weekend partiers from making the trip to Whistler for one night.

"This year we anticipate fewer problems than the two preceding years," he said.

This year marks the end of a three-year strategy by council and police in providing a safe New Year’s celebration in Whistler.

In 2000-01, the first year implementing the zero tolerance strategy, there were 106 arrests.

This was the same year a snowball fight erupted in the village and eventually got out of control, garnering national media attention. Some people were hit with pieces of ice, recalled Haider.

Last year arrests were down about 50 per cent.

"(Last year) we felt that our strategy worked really well," said Haider.

Although this year marks the end of the three-year First Night strategy, Haider said the police and the municipality would most likely continue to work together to produce more successful First Night celebrations in the years to come.

This year there is a focus on local artists and performers.

Among the entertainment lineup are local legends Guitar Doug and Grateful Greg as the Hairfarmers. The Tragically Hick will dazzle with their bluegrass sounds and the Gordo Trio will play a wide range of favourites.

There will also be face painting and juggling workshops, the Whistler Wishing Chair and the Flag Project among a host of other things to do on the village streets.

Tickets for First Night are on sale at municipal hall, Myrtle Philip Community Centre and the Meadow Park Sports Centre. They are $15 for adults and $4 for kids 12 and under.

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