Panda Game parties organized by University of Ottawa tone down student celebrations

OTTAWA — Parties after an annual football match between rival Ottawa universities led to chaos, arrests and dozens of tickets in the past couple of years, with students climbing light poles, starting fights and even flipping a car in October 2021.

But this year, police and university officials say student behaviour was much tamer, with only two people arrested for public intoxication before the University of Ottawa versus Carleton University matchup.

The game was moved to a Sunday, rather than the usual Saturday of years past, and uOttawa organized sanctioned pre-game and post-game parties.

Pre-game events are typical, but it was the first time one of the universities got involved in organizing a post-game bash, which included live music performances and limited alcohol.

Eric Bercier, the associate vice-president of student affairs at uOttawa, said about 4,000 students attended each event.

Bercier deems this year's approach a successful "recipe" for helping students celebrate safely.

"Students want to celebrate. They're willing to celebrate in a good way for neighbours. They (just) need a place to do so," said Bercier.

"And I think that's what we provided them (with) this year. We provided them with a place to celebrate and we saw positive outcomes."

Ottawa police Supt. Frank D'Aoust said the organized parties helped deter students from causing disturbances in the neighbourhoods near campus.

"We noticed that the student behaviour this year was very co-operative, especially compared to 2022 and 2021," he said.

"I think taking thousands of students away from the streets or the house parties in Sandy Hill really made a difference."

D'Aoust said officers also went door-to-door in the neighbourhoods surrounding uOttawa to encourage students to keep noise down and be respectful.

In 2022, police had arrested seven people on mischief and public intoxication charges and ticketed more than 80 others during nighttime street parties in Sandy Hill, just east of uOttawa's downtown campus.

Police started planning for this year's event months ahead of time, D'Aoust said.

Talks with Carleton, UOttawa, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, Ottawa bylaw and Action Sandy Hill, a local community association, began in July.

D'Aoust said police will debrief the response and management of Sunday's festivities with community partners and begin preparing for the next game.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.

Liam Fox, The Canadian Press