Queen’s students are finding police enforcement excessive this autumn in the University District, resulting in what they call a “disproportionate impact on socioeconomically disadvantaged students,” but Kingston Police “make no apologies.”
At its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, the Kingston Police Services Board heard a delegation from the Queen’s University Alma Mater Society (AMS) led by Julian Mollot-Hill, Commissioner of External Affairs. Mollot-Hill was accompanied by Victoria Mills, the AMS’s Vice-President of University Affairs, and AMS President Kate McCuaig.
Mollot-Hill appeared before the Board and spoke to the fact that the mandatory Part 1 Court Summons for violations under the Liquor Licence Control Act was being imposed outside the dates set out by the University District Safety Initiative (UDSI).
The UDSI, for the uninitiated, is a protocol to address safety concerns regarding conduct in the residential areas near the university by decreasing disruptive behaviours and strain on emergency services that have historically arisen when large street parties take place during move-in, Orientation, Homecoming, and St. Patrick’s Day.
According to the university’s website, “during these periods, Kingston Police and Bylaw Officials may issue a Part 1 Summons for disruptive behaviour. Students issued a Part 1 Summons under the UDSI will need to appear before a Justice of the Peace in Kingston to resolve the matter.”
However, the delegation led by Mollot-Hill was there to raise student concerns that the police have been issuing P1S outside of the designated UDSI periods. Mollot-Hill stated that AMS understands the UDSI and its use around critical times like move-in, Homecoming, and St. Patrick’s Day. However, their concerns on behalf of the Queen’s student body arose from enforcement that was announced in a media release on Tuesday, Sept. 19. 2023. That media release is no longer available on the Kingston Police website.
That release stated, “As the school year progresses the Kingston Police are actively enforcing the Liquor Licence and Control Act within post-secondary institution residential areas throughout the community. Kingston Police are continuing to see high instances of Liquor Licence and Control Act infractions including open alcohol, public intoxication, and underage drinking. As part of the continued enforcement strategy, individuals who are charged with an offence under the Liquor License and Control Act (LLCA) will receive a Part 1 Summons (P1S) which requires them to attend a mandatory court appearance and potentially face increased fines that are above the legislated set fines.” It also stated that, from September 15 to 17, 2023, police laid 107 charges for having open liquor in public, and six charges for a person under the age of 19 illegally consuming alcohol — all under the Liquor Licence and Control Act (LLCA) — as well as two charges under the Highway Traffic Act.
However, Mollot-Hill and his delegation expressed concern that “this policy is unwarranted out of UDSI dates, that it can result in a disproportionate impact on socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and that its enforcement can be intrusive and overbearing on the University District, and the Kingston Police should have communicated this change in policy in advance of its implementation.”
The increased fines that came with the implementation of P1S “have been of wildly varying amounts, with reports from students [that the fines have been] as low as $150 but often around $500,” Mollot-Hill stated. “In all cases we’ve heard of, these fines are uniformly above the standard set amount for LLCA offences set by the Ontario Court of Justice in Schedule 61 items 63 [and] 64, which are for underage possession, and 79 and 80, which are for open alcohol in [an] unauthorized place, which are all set at 100 dollars.”
“This increased cost can be of little significance to wealthy students, but it is a dire cost to students who are financially strained,” continued Mollot-Hill, referring to a recent Campus Climate and Culture Survey Report of Student Responses, which indicated that 39 per cent of students responded ‘Sometimes’ or ‘Often True’ to the statement “I couldn’t afford to eat nutritious meals.”
“To someone struggling to afford food, a fine the size of a month’s worth of groceries could be devastating,” Mollot-Hill argued.
Students had also complained to the AMS about the dates of their court appearances. “Many of them have been set during the winter break, December 22 to January 7 (2024),” Mollot-Hill pointed out. For students who could not afford the travel back and forth to Kingston from their home cities, this could prevent them from going home for the break at all.
Mollot-Hill also pointed to student concerns that the LLCA is not being implemented fairly in Kingston, suggesting that students are unfairly targeted by police instead of “many other citizens who act in the same way: open alcohol, noise complaints, etc.”
Students have also complained of being under constant surveillance by the police, which may contribute to them saying in the survey that “police make them feel unsafe,” Mollot-Hill reported.
Acting Deputy Chief Matt Funnell took the opportunity to respond to the student leaders, saying, “The bottom line is, we have been very clear with the community… that we have taken a different approach with the problems that we face with the University District… It is true that we continued the PS1 enforcement past the dates of UDSI. That was my decision, and the reason… was because we did not see a sufficient reduction in the behaviour the enforcement strategy was intended to achieve. We still saw large amounts of liquor infractions on the street and various things that really drew us to be there in the first place.”
During the first weekend following the UDSI dates for move-in, 113 charges were laid; in the week following, the police saw that reduced to 57 charges. Thus, Funnell relayed, “On the heels of that reality, we chose not to continue with P1S beyond that.” So the suggestion that this continued into October, he said, was false.
The UDSI is a policy that the police are not bound by, he reminded the group; the police enforce the laws of Ontario, and with many in the City growing tired of unlawful behaviour in the University District, “our community demands that we do something about it. The enforcement strategy was designed to have an impact, and that’s what we did… I make no apologies for it.”
The discussion continued with the deputy chief pointing out that court dates are not set by the police, but by the courts. In his 32 years as a police officer, he said, he has learned that “the more people get drunk, the worse the behaviour gets,” and the enforcement was intended to take the alcohol, especially in the streets, out of the equation early in the evening before “egregious behaviour” begins.
Mollot-Hill asked if there were any data that showed the strategy was working. Funnell said it was too early for data to tell but that, anecdotally, the police had seen a significant improvement since St. Patrick’s Day 2023, when they began to use the harsher penalties.
Mollot-Hill also faced some tough questions from members of the board. First, Kingston City Councillor Jimmy Hassan requested figures from the police as to the cost of enforcement of the problems at the university during the big party weekends. With some calculations, the Deputy Chief said it cost “upwards of half a million dollars.”
Hassan then redirected his question to Mollot-Hill, asking, “Do you know where the money comes from to spend on the police force for those couple of party weekends to make sure the students are safe and secure?”
Mollot-Hill answered, “Taxation.”
Hassan went on in this mode, asking if that was fair for himself and others who don’t live in the University District to have to pay for the party security, and saying that students who couldn’t afford to eat shouldn’t be “misbehaving” if they couldn’t afford to be charged. He concluded that the measures were put in place to keep students safe: “As Kingstonians, we want you to have a party, but don’t misbehave.”
Mayor Bryan Paterson took a different tack, acknowledging that Mollot-Hill had said students may not be aware of the strict enforcement because of poor communication, and offering to help rectify that by working with the AMS to get the message out.
Dr. Christian Leuprecht, provincial appointee to the KPSB, took umbrage at the argument that the laws were being disproportionally used on students, asking Mollot-Hill for proof of that.
Mollot-Hill attempted to reiterate that the survey he had referred to earlier found that students felt this was the truth, but Leuprecht would have none of it, saying tersely, “I’m not interested in people’s feelings. Provide me evidence that the law in this municipality is being applied inequitably to students.”
Mollot-Hill stood his ground against this harshly toned line of questioning, saying AMS represents “both the opinions of our students as well as whatever data we collect, and we do not have data on that issue. We have data on their opinions, so that is what I gave you.”
“Well I would suggest to you that maybe you should stick to the facts,” Leuprecht shot back.
The energy in the room now tense, Board Chair Jarrod Stearns suggested moving on, and another member of the AMS delegation was given the opportunity to take the microphone.
Victoria Mills, AMS Vice-President of University Affairs, reiterated the importance of straightforward communication of the enforcement strategy as it begins to ramp up again ahead of Homecoming this weekend, October 20-22, 2023.
Funnell answered, “I take your point that our messaging could have been clearer” and said he and Kingston Police would endeavour to correct that in the future. For now, he emphasized, the UDSI was in effect now: from October 4, until November 1, 2023.
In an interview following the delegation, Funnell stated, “We certainly appreciate that AMS has a voice and they’re here to represent the students, and we totally appreciate them and respect that.”
“This has been an ongoing problem in our community for decades now, and the community has demanded that we do our best as a police agency to control unlawful behaviour, unruly behaviour, criminal code offences, and all those types of things,” he continued.
“So we have changed our strategy. Since St. Patrick’s Day, we put [in place] specific enforcement teams who specifically target this kind of behaviour. The enforcement is fair, and it’s strict. There is a Part 1 Summons, there are elevated fines, and there’s a court date. .. and when we saw the behaviour, in essence, cut in half, we reduced our [presence in the University District]. The UDSI is back in place, and Homecoming is this weekend. The goal was to have the best impact we could on behaviour leading up to what we know is going to be a larger event.”
More information about this and other Kingston Police Services Board meetings can be found on the KPSB website.