It’s no secret that Mayoral candidate Rob Matheson thinks that Queen’s University students – and all post-secondary students in Kingston – should be considered part of the City’s demographics.
During his last tenure on City Council, Matheson brought forward a motion in 2010 to include the student populations in the demographic counts. And, while the intent of that motion never came to fruition, Matheson has always maintained that the students in Kingston are as much a part of the city as anyone else who lives here.
That’s why Matheson has issues with the current University District Safety Initiative, he explained.
“I have a problem with the fact that it seems to be targeting a segment of the population, again, the Queen’s students, with a bylaw that really is only for them and not anybody else,” Matheson said plainly.
“And I’d like to see our court time best used for real court cases that need to be addressed, not simply, you know, an open beer.”
The University District Safety Initiative, announced in June of this year, is a pilot project that was developed by the City of Kingston, Queen’s University, Kingston Police, and Frontenac Paramedic Services. The main change brought about by the Initiative is that all those ticketed within the University District at specific times (frosh week, homecoming, and/or the week of St. Patrick’s Day) also receive a summons to appear in court. The objective of the project is to deter students and other participants in the partying that occurs during these times from engaging in the behaviour that leads to fines – as well as dangerous situations like the roof that collapsed under the weight of approximately 40 St. Patrick’s Day party-goers on Saturday, March 17th of this year.
But Matheson said he believes the Initiative does more to add to the ‘town/gown’ divide in Kingston, particularly because it targets students.
“We’ve really got to start collaborating and cooperating with each other to build a stronger, more vibrant community, instead of trying to be vindictive against a certain segment of the population for perceived problems,” Matheson said.
“In this particular case, I don’t consider this to be a very fair or just law, targeting one segment of the population when we already have laws in place [that address those situations] if we need them.”
Matheson has drafted a policy that he feels would better address the underlying issues that fuel the fires of student partying – such as binge drinking and drinking games. But, more importantly in his view, Matheson said he would work with students and Queen’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) directly to create a policy.
“We want to include citizens in the process, and students especially, in becoming engaged and active in caring about Kingston. And if you, you know, you put up that sort of wall and line, then it doesn’t attract people,” Matheson said.
“We’ve developed a policy basically that is much better and more cooperative and takes the students into account as residents and citizens, not just as visitors here, which is what I would like to see more of.”
The first point in Matheson’s draft policy states that, if he is elected mayor, he will “Suspend and thoroughly evaluate the current University District Safety Initiative pilot following the 2018/2019 academic year for effectiveness, potential shortcomings, and potential alternatives. This process must include a consultation process with the Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University, as they have been excluded from virtually all formal discussion of the initiative to this point.”
The draft policy also talks about partnering with Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College, and specifically the Queen’s University Alcohol Working Group to “explore the role of the City of Kingston in understanding and changing underlying cultural issues that contribute to public safety concerns surrounding students, like street parties and excessive drinking.”
Apart from the fact that students weren’t involved in developing the University District Safety Initiative, Matheson’s main objection to the project is the very change it brought about: students ending up in court for violations such as open alcohol in public or public intoxication.
“It doesn’t make sense for judges to be naming and shaming students for having a beer out in public,” Matheson said, referring to the fact that students who end up in court have their names published on public record, which the University can cross-reference against the list of students enrolled there – which may or may not lead to further disciplinary measures on the part of the University.
“If we want our students to feel at home here, and welcome here, we have to treat them as fellow citizens, not as a demographic that you want all tarred and feathered with the same brush,” he continued.
“If we want students to want to stay here and start businesses here, and become included in the community, invested in our Kingston, then, you know, the best we can do is treat them as we do all citizens and include them in decision-making and our demographics, and encourage them to vote, and all that good stuff – not target them with bylaws.”
Matheson said he doesn’t believe that the new bylaws will not result in backlogs in the court system, contrary to what current Mayor Bryan Paterson and Queen’s University Principal Daniel Woolf claimed when they announced the Initiative earlier this year.
“Why do we need 200 more cases when the courts obviously have better things to do… and are already backlogged?” Matheson said, noting that the students who received summons during frosh week this year are set to appear in court in mid-November, which coincides with mid-term exams.
“We need to address this issue, but we do not need to saddle a university student… with a record that likely lasts them their whole life,” he said.
“[The students] are part of the problem, and they are part of the solution… College life is college life, you’re not going to get rid of it, so let’s embrace it and let’s try to make it safe for everybody.”