Speaking as a guest on the Region’s Public Health Update, Waterloo Region’s Police Chief Bryan Larkin spoke to the ongoing plan of the police force to handle this weekend’s Homecoming experience. Working in close collaboration with the region’s post-secondary institutions, Larkin says the weekend traditionally brings the challenge of congregation and unsanctioned street gatherings – though he hopes this year will look a little different.
“There’s a sense of vibrancy, there’s a sense of excitement…” says Larkin. “We’ve been actively preparing for this weekend (…) we have a plan in place that will look very different this year than in the past”.
Larkin points to the experience of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as an example of how the Homecoming weekend should be conducted – calling students and residents in the community “excellent stewards of enduring the greater good of all.” Larkin says the traditionally busy time had students supporting police and public health urgings to stay home and stay safe.
“This is no different – we find ourselves continuing to live through a pandemic which changed all of our lives,” says Larkin. “I know social interaction is extremely important for our wellness (…) that being said, as we slide into this weekend, we’re encouraging all citizens - particularly those in the university district - to refrain from exceeding the provincial guidelines."
Speaking with Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, Larkin says he agrees that all of us have become slightly “complacent” in our social bubbles – though as we edge towards the weekend, and continue to see rising COVID-19 numbers in the region, the Waterloo Region Police Service is setting a public appeal to ask those planning to celebrate to do so with accordance to laws and recommendations of public health.
Larkin says this weekend will see a full police deployment starting on Friday evening, as authorities work with a bylaw in a manner that he calls “strict, but fair”.
“We’re sending a message that we will not tolerate anybody impacting the actual regulation,” says Larkin. “Traditionally you would have seen road closures in and around the area (…) you will not see that this year. You’ll see us policing the virtual homecoming very differently – both physically and online."
“This is just really a sense of urging to all (…) to think about our loved ones, our families, our friends and simply make a difference. How we can all make a difference is in adhering to public health legislation as well as guidelines."
Last weekend the Ford government enacted new guidelines for unmonitored and private social gatherings, limiting functions to ten people at indoor events and twenty-five people at outdoor gatherings. Pointing to the recently approved special nuisance bylaw, Larkin says the police are enabled to address unsanctioned gatherings, with options to disperse as well as issue fines.
“Exceeding provincial legislation can result in a fine up to $10,000 – those that attend can be fined up to $750,” says Larkin. “These are substantial amounts – our goal is not to levy financial penalties… our goal is compliance."