Halifax mayor says rowdy university partiers lacked common sense in light of COVID-19

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HALIFAX — Dalhousie University students who attended a massive party that violated COVID-19 protocols should use more common sense — and stay away from classes for one week and get tested, authorities say.

Last Saturday's big street party near the university — which led to several arrests — reflected unacceptable behaviour that won't be tolerated, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said in an interview Monday.

Halifax is a university town that welcomes students and appreciates that they may want to have some fun while at school, he said.

"But they shouldn't leave their common sense at home," Savage added. "This is not acceptable. It infringes on the rights of other people and it violates every (COVID-19) protocol."

Halifax Regional Police said they responded to a flood of noise complaints Saturday around Jennings and Larch streets, where it was estimated thousands of people had gathered — first for a party in the afternoon and then for a larger event that night.

COVID-19 health orders in Nova Scotia forbid informal social gatherings of more than 50 people outdoors as well as outdoor organized festivals with more than 250 people.

Police arrested nine men and one woman for public intoxication and issued numerous summary offence tickets for illegal possession of open liquor. They said they were continuing to investigate the incident and expected to hand out more tickets.

Const. John MacLeod said students at the earlier gathering co-operated with police and dispersed, leading police to believe the "incident had finished for the day."

"The students did return and we returned with the intention to move towards enforcement," MacLeod said Monday.

Savage said he was disappointed so many students had gathered in one spot because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the city and across the Atlantic region.

"We expect people to do their part," he said. "There are ways that people can gather safely and appropriately … it's a shared responsibility."

Meanwhile, Dalhousie University said it was strongly urging students who attended the unsanctioned street parties to stay away from classes on Monday. In a Twitter statement issued Sunday, the university said students who went to the parties should avoid classes and general on-campus activities for one week and get tested for COVID-19.

Frank Harvey, university provost and vice-president academic, said the "illegal gatherings" posed a potential risk to Dalhousie's ability to "continue with a safe, sustainable, in-person learning experience this fall."

In a separate statement issued earlier Sunday, school officials said they were disappointed by the "deplorable and reckless behaviour" of some students who attended the parties.

"No one should be made to feel unsafe in their own home," the statement said of the rowdy behaviour and property damage. "To our neighbours: we share your frustration."

Officials said they would be pursuing disciplinary action under the university's code of student conduct, although there was no immediate word on Monday of further action. Those actions could range from mandatory training or probation to expulsion.

Madeleine Stinson, president of the Dalhousie Student Union, said while it can't be ignored that "things got out of hand" over the weekend, the union doesn't believe students should be "cast from our community because they made a single mistake."

"There are valid complaints coming from neighbours about property destruction and the use of essential services," Stinson said in an interview Monday, adding that incident should be used as a learning opportunity.

Stinson also questioned the potential use of the code of conduct to discipline those involved in an off-campus event, saying the code hasn't been applied evenly in other areas — including off-campus sexual assault cases.

"(Dalhousie) needs to make a clear stance, otherwise it looks like they are picking and choosing things that matter based on when they end up in the news and when they don't," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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