‘We didn’t want to wait until someone was seriously injured or killed’
The City of Kingston, Queen’s University and Kingston Police have announced a new initiative aimed at deterring irresponsible partying that will undoubtedly see more people – Kingstonian, student or otherwise – appearing before a justice of the peace.
The three parties, along with Frontenac Paramedic Services, announced the new University District Safety Initiative on Monday, Jun. 11, 2018. And, while the plan has a number of different parts involved, there is one main change the initiative will actually bring about: All those ticketed within the University District during Queen’s orientation week, homecoming and/or St. Patrick’s Day will also receive a summons to appear in court.
Both Mayor Bryan Paterson and Queen’s University Principal Daniel Woolf began discussions about the initiative immediately following St. Patrick’s Day of this year. On the afternoon of Saturday, Mar. 17, a garage roof on University Avenue collapsed under the weight of those 40-some party-goers that had piled onto it. Miraculously, no one was killed or seriously injured.
“I had several conversations with Principal Woolf following that, and we just started to talk about ‘is there a different approach that we can try?’” said Paterson.
“We didn’t want to wait until someone was seriously injured or killed. My feeling was that it was only a matter of time before that happened.”
The initiative will allow for a number of things, both Paterson and Woolf explained. From the City’s standpoint, it sends a clear message that “there is that certainly there is concern in the wider community when those bylaws are not respected,” Paterson said, and that “If you are ticketed, the effect of having to appear in court, in person, and have to take responsibility for your actions.”
From the University’s standpoint, the initiative opens up a new means of applying its ‘student conduct system,’ Woolf said.
“For years, we’ve struggled a bit to get accurate information on when it is actually students involved. We know the various numbers [involved], but it’s almost impossible to get their identities,” said Woolf, explaining that, once a person is summoned to appear, their name will then appear on the court docket, which is essentially public information.
“We can access that information and we will have people who will be able to match up the names with our students, and that will put [the student] into our misconduct system, apart from whatever fine [the student] might pay at the city level.”
Woolf was quick to point out penalties for each student entered into the ‘student conduct system’ will be handled on a “case by case basis,” and that the initiative is not designed to necessarily expel or suspend students.
“I want to immediately address something: this does not mean… that there are going to be draconian penalties – expulsions, suspensions, stuff like that – that’s not at all what it’s about. It’s about modifying disruptive and unsafe behaviour – unsafe for both the students themselves, and to people in the community. It’s about people taking personal responsibility,” said Woolf.
“There will, indeed, be deterrents, and there will be consequences with these, but of course, every case is different. The first-time offender that just stepped off the curb with a red cup is not the same as somebody who we’ve got a record of having done this two or three times, or holding a keg party in their house, or so forth.”
Students may be given warnings, or receive loss of privileges, depending on the case. Additionally, being able to match student names with offences may also allow the University to identify students who may be dealing with alcohol addiction, Woolf said.
Both Paterson and Woolf underlined that this initiative is not just aimed at Queen’s University students. Anyone from anywhere that is issued a ticket during those three high times for street parties (or under the ‘Nuisance Party Bylaw,’ which was passed earlier this year) within the University District (which is bounded by Princess Street, Division and Barrie Streets, King Street, and Victoria Street) will be issued a summons to appear in court, in Kingston, regardless of where that person actually resides. As Woolf pointed out, it isn’t just Queen’s students who contribute to the street parties that impede traffic, fill up emergency rooms and strain emergency resources.
“It’s not targeted specifically at students. I absolutely expect that there will be some students who will be caught up in this, but we all know from past experience that there are a good many people who come from out of town and have nothing to do with either Kingston or Queen’s and are frankly there just to make trouble,” he said.
“They will subject to the same enforcement as everybody else.”
And, while there may be a sudden influx of court cases being seen in Kingston at those three times of the year, Paterson said that both law enforcement and the local judicial system were consulted with during the design of the initiative.
“So we had discussions with City legal to understand ‘is this something that we can manage capacity-wise?’ and certainly there was that comfort level of ‘No, we can do this,’” he said.
“So if three times a year we would need to deal with a number of individuals appearing before a justice of the peace in the court system, that’s something we can do without any major costs or any other changes.”
As for whether or not he’s worried the initiative will affect the employability of Queen’s students’, Woolf said he’s been asked a few times. His response?
“I said ‘Well, if you’re worried about that, then don’t do the offence,’” he said.
“If you drink responsibly and within the bounds of the law, then no harm will come to you.”
Kingston Police Chief Gilles Larochelle was unable to comment as he is away on work related duties.
Read the official statement of Principal Woolf here, and its subsequent ‘FAQs’ here.
Read the official release from the City of Kingston here.