Mayor Ed Holder is calling for urgent action as the city works to curb unsanctioned street parties.
The issue has been of particular concern in London, where last year’s FOCO or Fake Homecoming drew 20,000 revellers to Broughdale Avenue.
On Wednesday, the community and protective services committee received a report from city staff outlining how staff aim to work with other stakeholders to form a cohesive plan to address the issue. The city’s chief bylaw officer, Orest Katolyk, and Western University’s VP of student experience, Jennifer Massey, both addressed the committee.
A policy team will investigate potential changes to city bylaws, the student code of conduct, and the location and timing of on-campus events. Any potential bylaw changes would be presented to the committee in April while Western’s board would need to review any code-of-conduct changes.
Holder stressed the need for a sense of urgency, worrying that it’s only a matter of time before someone dies.
“I cannot say it seriously enough because there will be blood on all of our hands — that sounds dramatic but there will be, because of people being stupid or encouraged by others to be stupid, and then as a result of that, some serious things will happen,” he said.
“I’m not prepared, quite frankly, to wait for years to get this fixed because if that death happens this year, or several, we can look back and say, ‘What did we not do today that could have prevented that happening?'”
Coun. Phil Squire, who represents the ward that includes the Broughdale neighbourhood, once again brought up concerns that he and his constituents are not being properly included in the university’s consultation process.
“The citizens of Ward 6 are not active participants in this process. As far as I know, their views have not been sought out, what remedies they want, and I’m telling you right now, there’s going to be issues if you don’t start engaging very quickly with the elected representative of Ward 6 and the citizens of Ward 6,” he said.
“I’ve been to the homecoming for five years and all I’ve seen is this event grow and I know why this event grows. I can tell because I see the signs. It’s because students want to say to their university, ‘We can do what we want, we can do it where we want, and we can do it when we want, and everybody’s just gonna watch.'”
Among the myriad of suggestions offered up by committee members during the meeting, Holder suggested Western University dole out harsher punishments.
“To Western, I say, ‘Enough is enough. We need you to help us help London and I say that with the deepest of respect of my alma mater because we cannot afford to have someone die as a result of this,'” he said.
“I think we need to have extremely clear, extremely strong academic sanctions which ultimately can mean an expulsion.”
Coun. Jesse Helmer, however, noted that there’s no simple fix.
“If you bring in sanctions on particular students, yeah, they might not organize the party anymore but there’s a whole new crop of new students who’re getting socialized into the behaviour,” he began.
“I’ve been at the parties. I know there are students from Fanshawe there, there are students from high school there, there are students from other places. The idea that one institution can make changes to their code of conduct and that’s going to affect the problem, that’s not the case.”
Committee members voted to accept the report from city staff, but also added a motion to have Holder write a letter to the provincial government asking it to investigate the possibility of enhancing the collection of bylaw offences.
Currently, if a bylaw offence notice is issued and the fine isn’t paid, it goes to collections. The committee wants to look at having relevant bylaw offences added to a person’s driver’s licence so that it would be impossible for them to renew their licence unless the fine is paid.
Last week, representatives from nine Ontario universities, including Western University, met up at Laurier to discuss the escalating issue.
Massey told the committee on Wednesday that peers across the province have been able to co-ordinate 2019 homecoming football games to limit them to just two weekends.
The change is meant to target the portion of revellers who travel from university to university and party to party. For instance, she said Western University’s next homecoming game will be held on the same weekend as Queen’s: Oct. 18-20.
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