The task force in charge of finding solutions to unsanctioned street parties, the likes of St. Patrick's Day celebrations on Ezra Avenue in Waterloo, has presented their latest interim report to city council.
Waterloo city council received the report during an evening session on Sept. 9, with the task force having received over 100 suggestions on how to deal with the unlawful gatherings.
As the task force continues to sort out the feasibility of each idea, Mark Dykstra, Commissioner of Community Services, City of Waterloo, and the Co-chair of the task force, presented their plans going into the next big student gathering, Wilfrid Laurier University 2019 Homecoming.
The university event is just three weeks away and will serve as a testing ground for several pilot initiatives the task force had in mind.
- Crowd management tools
- Parking restrictions (over the Sept 28 weekend, there will be no overnight parking across the city and no on-street parking, yet to be defined)
- Warning signage
- By-law changes
- Court summons (infractions related to municipal by-laws now have the potential of a court summons)
- Updated messaging, communication
He says these pilots will give them more tools to manage the crowds and hopefully cut down on attendance as well.
"These recommendations are coming from the operational team which include the police service, Waterloo Region Paramedics, as well as our fire service and municipal enforcements, so those are advancing based on their scope of service and what they're recommending to address the issue."
The task force hopes to install crowd management "pods", a fenced off area with a temporary washroom and garbage recycling, was a direct response to concerns over public urination and litter. He says the "pods" would also help break up the crowds and allow emergency vehicles better entry into crowded areas.
There was also an emphasis on strong nuance messaging towards students to encourage them to avoid crowded party.
"The students to understand the risk associated with attending these events, the risk associated with their own personal image, the risk around the image to the City of Waterloo and the institutions. Our strategic plans speaks to healthy community and resilient neighbourhoods. What we're seeing on Ezra Ave. doesn't align with that philosophy."
Tenille Bonoguore, Ward 7 Councillor, City of Waterloo appreciated the efforts put forth by the task force, but raised several issues on the pilots presented. She says she's worried these plans would make the gatherings "look sanctioned" and safe when the city has no actual involvement.
"I'm surprised that people expect the city to be responsible for these student events because, you know, the City of Kitchener doesn't run Oktoberfest and there are non-profit groups and organizations that run events. Cities don't run these events."
Other councillors also voiced concerns over dedicating even more resources to dealing with the unsanctioned events when there was more pressing issues such as homelessness or housing to worry about.
Bonoguore questioned whether they could cut down attendance with a strongly worded message, saying it may be too "nuanced" for a crowd of people who just want to party.
"We are trying to get messages to students in terms of what's expected, what's allowed, what's safe, where they might want to be taking precautions, but as with anything, it's hard to reach people these days."
Dykstra remained committed to their plans, explaining their research showed that "the messaging is a key piece moving forward" and the need to for "peer-to-peer messaging" from students to be effective. He references a silent majority that was against the parties, and the need for them to speak up to change the culture.
Bonoguore remains concerned that there isn't something more concrete. She says these events don't just cost the city a high price, but also on those attending, having heard reports of sexual assaults rising after St. Patrick's Day.
Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin was also in attendance taking questions from council. He assures concerned residents that they are doing everything they can in managing the "chaos." He uses the example of officers stationed on a street and how people can view it as both safe and dangerous because of how many officers there are.
"I want to bring some reassurance that we do have a comprehensive public safety plan, an emergency plan in place, that being said, over the last couple of years the crowd has grown significantly in size and we anticipate, for Homecoming, a larger crowd and it's reached a critical point of density, where we believe that the event is now reached the threshold where it's unsafe from a crowd management perspective."
Last year saw 14,000 in attendance at WLU Homecoming, according to police.
The chief did take the opportunity to applaud the efforts and expertise of Superintendent Tom Berczi who co-chairs the task force and whom Larkin calls "one of the nation-wide major event planners."
"I'm very proud of our efforts and people view us as a leader. That being said, we need to change the leadership perspective and turn that into being much innovators and how do we refocus and reshape and rebrand and, ultimately, end unsanctioned public street events."
Larkin also responded to some calls from residents to use more force, such as water cannons, in dealing with the crowds.
"Policing in Ontario is governed through a use of force matrix. When you apply any type of force, including the deployment of water, it's not an authorized lawful technique that we use in Ontario or in policing in Canada."
Regional police also do not own a water cannon.
The task force is planning a final approach to dealing with unsanctioned street parties, after they review their Homecoming pilot's outcomes.
Council will have a close eye on Homecoming weekend and are expected to receive a final plan draft in early 2020.
You can read the full report here, starting on page 32.