With the 180th anniversary of Queen’s University as well as the second fully-virtual Homecoming taking place, Saturday, Oct. 16 2021 should have been a day of positive celebration for the university community.
Unfortunately, the “celebrations” that took place in the streets of the University District overshadowed the weekend, with street blockages, extreme contravention of pandemic gathering restrictions, and occasional eruptions of violent aggression from some attendees.
These acts of aggression included threats made against police officers, an officer being injured as she attempted to detain a non-compliant and aggressive party-goer, and multiple revelers jumping on police vehicles.
Other risky behaviours including drinking on rooftops, jumping from balconies, scaling the outside of buildings, and a large amount of broken glass and garbage being strewn on the streets and sidewalks, created an extremely unsafe environment for those attending.
In total, an estimated 200 officers from multiple police forces were present throughout the weekend. In addition to an “all hands on deck” response from Kingston Police officers, this also consisted of officers from Durham Police, an offender transport unit from Brockville Police, and OPP officers from various detachments throughout the Eastern Region, including the OPP’s heavily-equipped Public Order Unit.
While the policing costs over this weekend will not be known immediately, they will almost certainly eclipse the approximately $125,000 that Kingston Police estimated was spent on policing the University District in September.
Leading up to the weekend, Queen’s Principal Patrick Deane sent appeals to the student body to conduct themselves safely and respectfully. In an open letter posted to the Queen’s website on Thursday, Oct. 14, which was also emailed directly to students, Principal Deane entreated, “I am asking for your assistance in helping contain the social gatherings and to act responsibly over the coming weekends. Being fully vaccinated is not a pass to ignore Ontario’s gathering limits (social gatherings up to 100 people outdoors or up to 25 people indoors). As members of both the Queen’s and Kingston community, we all must demonstrate leadership, respect one another and be mindful and aware of the provincial laws and local bylaws that are in place to protect us.”
Friday’s relatively subdued student gatherings, aided in large part by the rainy weather, gave officials a false sense that this appeal may have been heeded.
However, on Saturday, even before the streets filled with people, there were already early indicators of defiance, including a sign hung on one William St residence goading bylaw officers to “add (the fine) to their tab.”
The situation quickly escalated into one of the largest and most chaotic gatherings that has been seen in the streets of the University District.
At around 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, Bylaw Officers from the City of Kingston began blocking off Aberdeen Street and William Street, to assist officers in containing the large and growing unlawful gatherings on the streets, sidewalks, and yards.
At around 4:30 p.m., those two streets were officially declared an Aggravated Nuisance Party under the Mayor’s Emergency Order. Several warnings were issued to revelers by police, in which they were ordered to disperse or else face liability to a $2,000 Administrative Monetary Penalty.
However, despite these warnings, very few partiers left, and many laughed openly at the announcements.
By around 5:30 p.m., after multiple such warnings, police officers, including a large contingent of the OPP’s Public Order Unit wearing full riot gear, marched down Aberdeen Street and quickly cleared the area.
Aberdeen Street stayed clear of partiers for the rest of the early evening, but remained unsafe for vehicular traffic due to broken glass and debris until City of Kingston crews arrived to clean the streets at around 7:00 p.m.
Large gatherings assembled again at around 10:00 p.m., this time clustering around the intersection of Johnson Street and University Avenue. By this point, the dynamic had changed significantly, and a highly-volatile environment developed.
Several partiers attempted to fight police as the officers attempted to keep the roadways clear. Kingston Police was eventually forced to close Johnson Street temporarily, until a second Aggravated Nuisance Party declaration was made regarding the new gathering at around 11:00 p.m.
Once that declaration was made, the OPP once again marched through the crowds, compelling them south down University Avenue past Earl Street. The crowd eventually dispersed at Union Street, but began to regroup and head north.
The regrouped gathering congregated in Victoria Park, on the north side of Brock Street. While this meant they were off the streets, the darkness and the volume of people present still created an unsafe environment rife with risk of injury and assault.
Thousands of partiers remained at Victoria Park, setting off fireworks, drinking alcohol, playing loud music, and shining lasers until about 2:30 a.m. until police moved in to disperse the crowd for good.
In a statement on the morning of Sunday, October 17, Principal Patrick Deane noted that he feels “extreme disappointment”.
“Despite the extraordinary efforts of our staff, student leaders, security, City officials, Kingston Police and emergency services,” Principal Deane acknowledged, “…[t]housands of people gathered throughout the day and night, ignoring the law and showing little or no respect or care for others. We very much appreciate the work of the Kingston Police and OPP who demonstrated restraint and acted with professionalism to try to manage the crowds, and we acknowledge the concerns of the community members—including our own alumni—who have expressed outrage and frustration over the behaviour they witnessed last night… Today we will be assessing the damage to our campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, working with student volunteers to clean up, and speaking with the City and local Police.”
With all of this year’s Homecoming events taking place virtually, no Queen’s alumni had been invited back physically to Kingston to celebrate their reunions. However, many people at these street parties openly self-identified as being from out of town, and often with no connection to Kingston or the Queen’s community. One person was heard attempting to defend their entire group of attendees to police officers by stating, “We’re not from Queen’s, we’re from Ottawa, just here for one night of partying.”
Principal Deane also noted in his statement that this is symptomatic of a broader cultural issue at play, stating that “the last twenty-four hours have seen our community seriously disrupted by the reckless behaviour of some of our students, as well as by other individuals who came here for the sole purpose of causing trouble… We are discouraged by what we are seeing across the province with large parties of students in Hamilton, London, Waterloo and Ottawa with similar outcomes and individuals who travel to each as a rite of passage. We know the last few years have been a struggle for young people, but such behaviour is dangerous, irresponsible, and ultimately inexcusable.”