Search for solutions begins after huge Dal student party overwhelms neighbourhood

·4 min read
Halifax police say thousands of people attended the Saturday evening party in Halifax. (Mark Doiron/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Halifax police say thousands of people attended the Saturday evening party in Halifax. (Mark Doiron/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Broken glass and trash bags filled with red cups are the only traces that remain of the parties that drew thousands of university students to the streets of a Halifax neighbourhood on Saturday night.

It was quiet Monday on Jennings Street, part of the residential area at centre of the large unsanctioned homecoming gathering near the Dalhousie University campus, but trust has been shaken and consequences loom.

"Unfortunately, some students didn't pay attention to the rules, and we had quite a scene here," said Neil Ritchie, who has lived on Jennings Street for 22 years. "We're very encouraged that Dalhousie is serious about some kind of response."

On Sunday night, Dalhousie president Deep Saini issued a joint statement with other university officials describing the street parties as "reckless, dangerous and disruptive." Concerns about COVID transmission and the erosion of relations with families in the area were highlighted.

The university had warned several days ahead of time that large parties were prohibited, and said it was working to ensure that students who attended face the consequences of their actions, as outlined in the student code of conduct.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Dalhousie's statement asked any students who attended the parties to get tested for COVID, even if doubly vaccinated, and to not attend classes or any on-campus activities for one week. Students were told to set up alternate arrangements with their professors in order to keep up with their school work.

Some students fear that partygoers will attend their classes as usual, to avoid admitting their own guilt.

"These people are still going to attend classes, even though Dalhousie has told them not to," said Addy French, a second-year student at Dalhousie who lives on Jennings Street but did not join the party. "You're basically putting in writing that you attended these parties and they said that there's going to be consequences for those who attended.

"So it's hard as someone who didn't participate to feel comfortable going to classes still."

Majority followed the rules

French pointed out that most students did heed the warnings of the university and stayed home this past weekend.

"Especially with COVID rules now, it was just in bad taste," she said, noting the province hasn't yet entered Phase 5 of reopening when public health restrictions are to be further eased and larger gatherings would be allowed.

But French said she can still understand why some students were drawn to the party.

"[Homecoming] is great for students to get out to meet people. Especially after being in a pandemic for so long," she said. "I just think there was definitely a better way to go about doing it."

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Madeleine Stinson, the president of the Dalhousie University Student Union, agreed there could have been a better way for students to celebrate homecoming.

"You throw an on-campus sanctioned event and you stop pushing students out into the community. You stop penalizing them for doing what they're going to do, and you give them alternative programming that reduces the risks," said Stinson.

Dalhousie University has recently banned the possession and consumption of alcohol and cannabis on campus, and those living in residence can't have guests until at least Oct. 31.

Halifax Regional Police officers were on scene on Saturday night and made 10 arrests for public intoxication. They also issued "several" tickets for noise violations, open liquor and other offences.

"It was disappointing to see, to be honest," said Const. John MacLeod. "We saw a large group of people that had disregarded ... the values of their community and disregarded the public health warnings that have been given to so many of us this past year and a half.

Peter Dawson/CBC
Peter Dawson/CBC

The trash left behind was "crazy," French said, but students living in the houses that hosted the parties did come around the next day with garbage bags and pick it up.

Waye Mason, the city councillor for the area the parties took place, said the gatherings were "bigger, larger, scarier than anything we've ever seen in the neighborhood before."

Mason pointed out the size of the parties was probably due to the COVID rules students have been facing for the past year and a half.

Though many are disappointed and upset at the students who attended the street parties, Ritchie said the students who live around him are usually responsible and respectful of the community. He said one student even helped him shovel out his driveway during the winter.

"We love our neighborhood. It's very vibrant. We like the diversity, we enjoy interacting with students and people that have been here for years," Ritchie said.

He said the residents of the area will be holding a Zoom meeting to discuss how to proceed.

"We [want] to work as much as we can with the university and with the HRM," Ritchie said. "It's tremendous living here, except for the occasional problems like this. So we just hope that we can take some steps to prevent this from happening in future."

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