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Council, Queen’s agree to step-up fines, enforcement during pandemic

Students spill into the streets on a September night in 2020. Photo by Logan Cadue.

After weeks of young people gathering in large crowds to socialize and party – and after a delegation from Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health, Kingston City Council voted unanimously to increase fines for high-risk behaviour during the pandemic.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, City Council addressed an added motion that sought to have Council endorse the amending of bylaws to do just that. A report from CAO Lanie Hurdle recommended Council support an increase to the offence notice under the Administrative Monetary Penalties for the Nuisance Party Bylaw and the Emergency Order Bylaw.

“With ongoing behaviours and failure of many individuals to comply over the past two-weeks, staff are recommending that higher fines be established city-wide to deter people from engaging in large social gatherings,” the report reads. “Public Health KFL&A has been involved in the development of this staff recommendation and are supportive of this change.”

Staff recommended the fines under these bylaws increase from $500 to $2,000 for first-time offenders. This means hosting, conducting or sponsoring a Nuisance Party Offence would result in a fine of $2,000 per contravention. It also means that offenders who fail to comply with an Emergency Order or Obstruct an Officer would face $2,000 fines, as well. With the changes, repeat offenders could face fines through the court system as high as $100,000.

The Council meeting opened with a delegation from Dr. Moore, who was present to speak to both the concept of the increased fines (as well as the extension of the Integrated Care Hub presence at Artillery Park).

“I think many members of our community are worried as we see young people aggregating in our community, [and] large house parties. Kingston Police, the City Bylaws, and KFL&A [Public Health] bylaws are working very hard to try to prevent or limit these large gatherings of individuals, of a population that we know across Canada is the highest risk to spread this virus,” he said to Council. “And despite having aggressive enforcement, large gatherings have continued, last weekend and this most recent weekend.”

Moore went on to say that the combined efforts of Mayor Bryan Paterson, Chief Antje McNeely of Kingston Police, and KFL&A Public Health have already resulted in the closure of Breakwater Park and Gord Edgar Downie Pier – something he indicated was a good move that he “supported 100 per cent” – as well as the curfews for that and other City parks, calling it a “proportionate response.”

Moore said that Public Health is currently investigating one case of COVID-19 of this age group in the downtown area that had up to 40 contacts whom Public Health is currently trying to track down. He also said that the Assessment Centre remains very busy, and Public Health’s case management is getting stretched.

“So I think the response of increasing the fines is proportionate to the risk. You need further deterrents that will protect our community, limit the size of people gathering, so that we can reduce the risk and harm to our community,” he said, noting that he endorses and supports the raised fines.

In the end, Council voted unanimously in favour of increasing the fines, but not before asking a number of questions of Dr. Moore regarding the returning students and increased number of gatherings of young people.

“What I’m hearing in the neighbourhoods about the issue of student partying is that they’d like to see the university involved in the solutions. I’m wondering what discussions you’ve had with Queen’s University administration, and what you’re advising them to do to help reduce the harmful behaviours,” Councillor Peter Stroud posed to Moore.

Dr. Moore indicated that Public Health had worked diligently with St. Lawrence College, the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), and Queen’s University over the past six months to try to “build capacity as students returned” in an attempt to try to limit the spread of the virus. He referred to some of the large gatherings that have been taking place as “potential super-spreader events,” and then addressed what he feels should happen next.

“I think the next phase as we embrace further enforcement within the City of Kingston is also that the college and universities have to step up and use the Student Code of Conduct. Within that Student Code of Conduct, it is clear that if you violate municipal, provincial, or federal legislation, that the principal can use expulsion or suspension as a means of discipline to set an example and to deter individuals from potentially spreading this virus,” he said. “I think that’s the next best step if we continue to see this happening, then we need Queen’s and St. Lawrence College to step up and say… they embrace prevention, they embrace deterrents, and they will expel students who blatantly disregard a provincial emergency Civil Protection Act, and the Reopening of Ontario Act.”

The subject of the post-secondary institutions stepping up the enforcement of their respective Student Code of Conduct became the preferred subject matter for councillors over the next 25 minutes. Councillor Simon Chapelle urged Dr. Moore to push for the enforcement of the Code of Conduct on students.

“Anything you could emphasize that they can send home some of these kids to their parents, losing their tuition for a year, is a good idea,” he said.

Councillor Lisa Osanic asked if other Public Health organizations had urged municipalities to increase fines for those displaying high-risk behaviours during the pandemic. Dr. Moore indicated he has spoken with a number of different Health Units, and that, yes, they have supported the idea of increased fines.

Councillors Wayne Hill and Ryan Boehme both asked Dr. Moore how they could help to push post-secondary institutions to enforce their Code of Conduct. Boehme spoke about the frustration of residents having seen some of their favourite locations closed upon the return of the students.

“How can we nudge Queen’s to do this?” he asked. Dr. Moore indicated that now is the time to let the decision makers at Queen’s knows how the community feels. He noted that he feels badly for the Kingston Police and Bylaw Enforcement officers who are attempting to break up large gatherings on a daily basis, and underlined that the enforcement of the Codes of Conduct could help alleviate some of that by decreasing the number of students socializing and gathering in crowds.

“It’s time to move up the ladder from education to enforcement,” he said.

Queen’s responds with message from Principal Deane

The day after Council met and the above discussion took place, Queen’s University issued a “Statement from the Principal on COVID-19 and Queen’s Student Code of Conduct.” The statement emphasized that the University will “take action to hold accountable students who disregard public health directives and safety measures.”

“At this time, it is imperative that Queen’s students clearly understand the university’s position regarding student behaviour that disregards public health directives. The Student Code of Conduct applies to both on- and off-campus behaviors that risk or have potential to risk the safety of our community members in the university’s living, learning, or working environments,” the Principal and Vice-Chancellor said in the statement.

Deane went on to say that large social gatherings without safety precautions in place have taken place in the University District.

“While Kingston Police and bylaw officers have been responding to these gatherings, some students continue to engage in risky behaviour. This is not just disappointing but increasingly concerning as it presents a real and significant risk to our entire community,” Deane wrote. “The university will take action to hold accountable those who flagrantly disregard these risks.”

Deane concluded the statement by expressing that students who violate Public Health or City directives could face expulsion. “Any student whose behaviour ignores provincial and other applicable regulations and is identified as a potential community safety risk, will be referred for review under our Student Code of Conduct and will be subject to sanctions available under the Code, including expulsion from the university,” he said in the statement, which can be read in full here.

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