NS universities aren’t the only ones throwing out-of-control street parties. Here’s what others have done

As two Nova Scotia universities celebrate their homecoming this weekend, they are trying to solve the same problem facing schools in other provinces: wild parties.

A joint press release from Acadia University and St. Francis Xavier University on Thursday afternoon says their events promote respectful and safe celebrations on campus with zero tolerance for large street parties, the drunkenness and open alcohol.

On October 1, chaos erupted near Dalhousie University when thousands of students joined an unauthorized off-campus street party, lighting a bonfire and assaulting police officers. The school does not have an official homecoming weekend.

“Those who choose to attend large unauthorized parties at home or on the street should understand that in addition to the penalties provided by the student code of conduct, they may be fined and face other legal sanctions,” said Peter Ricketts, president and vice-chancellor of Acadia.

Ricketts says the legal ramifications also extend to those hosting parties and landlords of rental properties.

Both universities are banning overnight guests in residence and increasing campus security on weekends.

Halifax Regional Police have shut down a number of parties held to celebrate Dalhousie University’s 2017 homecoming. The banner hung outside this Preston Street home reads, “You honk, we let’s drink. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

A number of Ontario universities have addressed the problem using both hard and soft persuasion.

Waterloo’s ‘mayor’s father’ considered options

During the same weekend chaos unfolded in Halifax earlier this month, a series of small homecoming parties took place in Waterloo, Ontario. It was a welcome contrast to years past when more than 30,000 students packed a street, Mayor Dave Jaworsky said.

Jaworsky calls himself Mayor Dad because the city has 40,000 students who attend either Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Waterloo or Conestoga College.

“We used to measure it by the number of ambulance rides and the number of students who went to the hospital and they would go to the hospital and about a third would be in serious condition,” Jaworsky said.

Waterloo Regional Police estimated that 22,000 people attended an unauthorized St. Patrick’s Day party on Ezra Avenue in the city of Ontario in 2018. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

“As dad mayor, we don’t want to lose any and we’re lucky we don’t have any. But you know, it’s lucky every time that happens,” he said.

He says tackling unauthorized street parties means trying new things and stealing ideas from other cities.

A few years ago, the city tried to create “management pods” on Main Party Street, complete with portable toilets, trash cans and platforms for police to stand on to monitor crowds. It didn’t work, Jaworsky says, because it seemed the city approved of the party.

Instead, the city is now closing off the main party street two days before a big weekend and only residents are allowed in.

Jaworsky says it forces students to form small parties that police and regulations can more easily police

Additionally, Waterloo has made its noise bylaw enforceable 24 hours a day with increased fines or a trip to court for violators.

Students teamed up with city officials or police to knock on doors in Waterloo, Ontario, in 2019, a week before the annual unauthorized St. Patrick’s Day street party on Ezra Avenue. (Shawn Cruz/Laurier Student Union)

He says other community initiatives have also helped, such as neighborhood associations holding barbecues in September and a door-to-door campaign with football players and police reminding students of possible fines.

Finally, he reminds students that if you wouldn’t do it at your parents’ house, don’t do it here.

Say thank you

“Just don’t bother the neighbors and celebrate, enjoy and meet new friends and go from there.”

This year was such a success that Jaworsky sent an open letter on October 3 thanking the students for their understated party.

“Leaders across the community have asked students to socialize and celebrate responsibly and we have seen positive progress,” he wrote in the letter.

Kingston, Ont. uses the University District Security Initiative

A few hundred kilometers away, Kingston, Ont. and Queen’s University have also fought against street parties.

To combat unauthorized gatherings, Kingston introduced the University District Safety Initiative allowing police to issue a court summons or ticket payable directly to the city.

And when someone gets a court summons, they have to go to court, not just pay a fine online. A first-time offender may have to pay $500, but it can go up to $10,000.

The University District is not a defined area in Kingston, effectively applying to the entire city.

Police clear the streets of the Queen’s University neighborhood after an unauthorized street party was declared a nuisance party in Kingston, Ont., October 23, 2021. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

The initiative is a partnership between the city, Kingston Police and Queen’s University. Started as a pilot project, it became permanent in 2019 for certain weekends like frosh week or homecoming, but can also be used any time of the year if the harmful party regulations are broken .

Dalhousie studied the Kingston and Waterloo approaches

Dalhousie University commissioned an independent report on street party culture which was released in September. He looked at how other universities and cities were handling street parties, including using a compulsory-credit course.

No one from Dalhousie University was available to interview for this story.

In a statement to CBC, a spokesperson wrote, “Extensive efforts are being made by the university to proactively monitor and communicate potential risks related to unsafe student behavior on and off campus, and through regular checks with [Halifax Regional Police.]”

St. FX has introduced four compulsory modules for new students, including one called Healthy Socializing @ X. Students must complete the modules before they are allowed to enroll in second-year courses.

Healthy Socializing @ X includes topics such as “exploring the party and why students do it” and “encourages students to be aware of their community and how their actions impact the experience of others.”