Behave or say goodbye to Panda Game, officials warn students

·3 min read
A vehicle was flipped by partygoers after last year's Panda Game. Officials are warning any issues this year could spell the end of the annual football match. (Steve Higham - image credit)
A vehicle was flipped by partygoers after last year's Panda Game. Officials are warning any issues this year could spell the end of the annual football match. (Steve Higham - image credit)

Students need to tame their Panda Game celebrations if they want the tradition to continue beyond this year, says Coun. Mathieu Fleury as the countdown to kickoff begins.

Following last fall's clash between the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens, thousands of people descended on the Sandy Hill area. At one point revellers flipped a vehicle. Seven people ended up in hospital, while eight others faced charges ranging from mischief to rioting to participating in an unlawful assembly.

That kind of mayhem can't happen again, said Fleury, who represents the ward of Rideau-Vanier. If it does, the Panda Game could become a thing of the past.

"It's a reality that the policing cost and the reputational cost for both the city and the universities … are putting this tradition in jeopardy," he said.

"The game's going ahead this year but it doesn't mean it will be seen again next year."

The annual clash between rival schools is set to take place Oct. 1 at TD Place in Lansdowne Park.

Mayor Jim Watson said he plans to attend. He hopes people enjoy the game and then leave in peace, and had strong words for anyone who gets violent.

"The message to students is clear: Don't be an idiot. Enjoy the football game, have fun … but also respect the neighbourhood you live in," said Watson.

"The bottom line is if the thing goes completely out of whack and there's destruction and damage and injury to people, obviously we have to step back and take a look — is this going to continue?"

Police will have 'zero tolerance'

Ottawa police have announced they'll have "zero tolerance" for disruptive parties and have cautioned people to expect a heavy police presence in the ByWard Market, Sandy Hill and Old Ottawa South.

Last year, the festivities were calm and a large number of police were in Sandy Hill during the day, but officers had to be re-deployed around 8 p.m. after Russell Avenue was overrun by partygoers.

Louise Lapointe, president of Action Sandy Hill, said the Panda Game is part of what makes Ottawa the city it is and should continue. The community isn't against having fun, she said, but the "excessive party and riots" of last year are "totally uncool."

The organization has been working with officials and the university since last year to build on the successes of a tailgate event at the arena and to move other events out of residential areas to prevent what happened in 2021 from happening again.

If it does happen again, there could be consequences, Lapointe warned.

"I think nobody wants to see Panda cancelled, ever, but unfortunately that is a risk if the behaviour doesn't change."

Student union wants to 'protect the Panda'

The University of Ottawa Students' Union is focused on trying to "protect the Panda," according to student life commissioner Erin Atkinson.

It plans to put up posters and send emails reminding students to have fun while respecting the wider community.

Atkinson said she hopes the city and police will also "stay reasonable" when it comes to enforcement.

"I think if we work together and we are both respectful on both sides it will go so smoothly," she added.

The partying after last year's fixture prompted Fleury to suggest cancelling the 2022 Panda Game. The councillor now says fans will decide whether the event will continue.

"If there's no future Panda it's going to be on the shoulders of students' decisions."