Student safety one year later

As the anniversary of Justin Schwieg’s tragic death nears, the Journal reviews the state of security on and off campus

Thursday nights in the Hub—the corner of Division and Princess Streets—are still packed one year after the death of Queen’s student Justin Schwieg at A.J.’s.
Thursday nights in the Hub—the corner of Division and Princess Streets—are still packed one year after the death of Queen’s student Justin Schwieg at A.J.’s.
Photo: 
Hub Corporation partner Scott Macpherson spoke to the Journal about new safety measures.
Hub Corporation partner Scott Macpherson spoke to the Journal about new safety measures.
Photo: 
The late Justin Schwieg (centre) with his stepsister Caitlin, brother Jay, mother Christine and stepfather Terry (left to right) after Schwieg’s last game as a Golden Gael.
The late Justin Schwieg (centre) with his stepsister Caitlin, brother Jay, mother Christine and stepfather Terry (left to right) after Schwieg’s last game as a Golden Gael.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of Christine McLaughlin

One year ago, the Queen’s and the Kingston community reeled in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy. In the early hours of March 25, 2005, Justin Schwieg—a 23-year-old fifth-year PhysEd student, football player and bouncer at The Brass—died from injuries caused by what the Kingston police called “an unprovoked assault.” He was stabbed near the second-floor bar of A.J.’s Hangar nightclub.

A preliminary hearing for Bruce K.E. McKenzie, who has been charged with second-degree murder in Schwieg’s death and possession of a knife for a purpose dangerous to the public peace, began Jan. 11.

Today, A.J.'s has been reincarnated as the Ale House and continues to draw crowds of students and Kingston residents, but the bar’s owner say they now have a heightened sense of the need for safety.

“Everything we have thought about every day since then with respect to our operations has been how to prevent, how to prevent,” said Scott Macpherson, partner of the Hub Corporation, the company that owns the Ale House, Stages and The Brass. “Our goal, constantly, is to try to prevent any activity that might become confrontational or problematic, rather than respond to it.”

Macpherson said that while changing A.J.’s to the Ale House was “something that the marketplace needed,” the establishment has undergone more than just a name change.

Bouncers at the entrance to the Ale House now carry metal-detecting wands and pat patrons down before they enter, and plastic cups and shot glasses are used instead of glass, Macpherson said, adding that these changes have also been put into effect at Stages and The Brass.

In addition, the ambience of the establishment itself has changed.

“The Ale House is more of a pub than a club now,” he said. “It’s brighter, there’s a lot more seating, the music is a lot lighter. It’s still very current but it’s not ‘club music,’ which is kind of what it was.” Macpherson said he thinks the staff at the Ale House do not feel unduly at risk or unsafe.

“You would have to ask them, but my perception is that they feel safe in their employment,” he said. “They obviously feel safe enough to continue to work.”

Courtney Graham, ArtSci ’06 and a waitress at the Ale House, said she feels safer there now than she has in the almost five years she’s worked there.

“I probably feel now is the safest time to have worked at the Ale House than any other time previously,” she said. “It’s a completely different crowd.”

Graham said she thinks the security measures are an improvement, but wasn’t sure if she would have done anything differently herself.

Macpherson said the staff has also been trained with safety as a priority.

“We spend quite a bit of time with the staff trying to instruct them on how to recognize a confrontational situation,” he said. “When they approach situations, [we train them] how to prevent it from becoming confrontational.”

Macpherson added that there have been no serious altercations at the Ale House this year.

“In the last year it’s been very problem-free,” he said.

Macpherson said that for the most part, patrons appreciate the extra time it takes to get into the Ale House thanks to precautions such as frisking and metal detectors.

“I think they’re respectful of the fact that we’re doing it,” he said. “If that means it takes an extra minute or two to get in ... I think it’s worth the time that it takes.”

Taylor Coles, ArtSci ’08, said she thinks the increased security measures at the Ale House are succeeding in keeping intoxicated or rowdy patrons out.

“I feel safer going there because of that,” she said. “They’re not going to take any chances.”

Coles added that while she was afraid to go to Ale House at the beginning of the year, it has become a place she goes often because everyone she knows is there.

“To be completely honest, I’m actually kind of surprised that Ale House has become the place it is,” she said. “I’m surprised that people aren’t more intimidated to go there.”

Ian Nichols, owner of the Toucan & Kirkpatrick’s pub and Tango restaurant and tapas bar, said he did not feel the need to significantly expand security at his establishment following Schwieg’s death.

While the Toucan has hired more people to work at the door in the past year, Nichols said, they are primarily for crowd control and ensuring that the pub keeps to its occupancy limits.

“We don’t consider them bouncers—they’re more like friendly door posts,” he said. “We have, touch wood, never had the necessity to pat people down.”

Nichols said that in the past 20 years, occasional shoving matches have been the extent of violence at both of his establishments.

He attributed this to a different type of clientele.

“It’s a different mentality, a different style of person than we deal with,” he said. “It’s not a place that people who want rowdy excitement would even want to go to.”

Nichols said the small sizes of the Toucan and Tango also help to make the venues safer.

“We’re tiny compared to the larger bars, too, so it’s a lot easier to pick out these people that are going to be violent,” he said.

Corey Fainstat, manager of the Elixir nightclub, said security measures added over the past year have included an expanded monitoring system in the form of more bouncers throughout the building, prominently placed surveillance cameras both inside and outside, and a washroom attendant.

“We’ve always had a pretty tight system in place,” he said. “We’re a very low-incident club already.”

Fainstat said that while Elixir has a zero-tolerance policy towards violence, the club also believes in ensuring its patrons don’t feel intimidated.

“If I was walking into a club and I was patted down and I had metal detectors put on me ... I’m thinking, OK, people come here with weapons? Should I have a weapon?”

Fainstat said he thinks both patrons and staff feel very comfortable at Elixir.

“We’re welcoming and we’re supportive, but also on the other end if you are someone who likes to cause problems, we have an absolute zero-tolerance policy to make sure you’re not welcome back,” he said. “Someone who shows signs of being a problem, [we] don’t allow them to remain in the environment where they continue to cause a problem.”

Fainstat said Elixir’s dress code, which currently prohibits “gang-related” attire such as bandannas and certain tattoos, acts to both increase safety and improve the overall atmosphere of the club.

“[A] dress code, which sets standards but in a non-intimidating way, really just brings up the whole level of the club in terms of atmosphere,” he said. “It’s not a crazy strict dress code, but it helps a lot.”

Coles said that while she feels comfortable at the Ale House and other off-campus venues, the familiarity of the campus crowd makes her more comfortable in on-campus bars.

“I’d feel like [other patrons] would go to Queen’s and I would know them,” she said. “I have faith in my co-students.”

Dylan Dersch, Sci ’07, agreed.

“As far as campus goes, it’s less of a problem,” he said. “It’s sort of an unwritten rule that you’ve got to maintain some sort of respectability, even when you’re drunk.”

Head StuCon Erin Fleming said she thinks students feel safer in on-campus establishments because of the StuCon presence there.

“They know that students are going to be in the bars, they know that they are safe and we are checking everyone that comes through the door,” she said. “I think that people are more in control when they’re at a campus bar.”

However some students expressed concerns regarding the hands-off policy that by both StuCons and Campus Security adhere to when it comes to intervening in disputes on campus.

“I don’t agree with totally hands-off because [a hands-on approach] may be necessary in certain situations,” Coles said. “If there’s a situation that requires it, I don’t think they should be totally hands off. That would be a little ridiculous.”

However, Fleming said the StuCons’ hands-off policy has been effective.

“If there is a fight in the bar, we try and talk them down as much as possible,” she said. “All the StuCons have non-violent crisis intervention training which is done through Queen’s Security. If a fight does get out of hand, [Campus] Security is called to break it up and they get the police in there.”

Fleming said this has been done on two occasions so far during this school year. The last time it happened—which was earlier this month—students were fighting for two to three minutes before the senior StuCon separated them “verbally,” according to Fleming, and then called Campus Security, which arrived five minutes later. The police arrived a couple of minutes after that, she said.

JComm Chief Prosecutor Jeremy Opolsky declined to comment on any details of the altercation, as the students involved have yet to face JComm.

David Patterson, director of Campus Security, said he agrees the hands-off policy is effective.

“If there’s criminal activity taking place which requires physical intervention, the Kingston Police are contacted immediately,” he said. “It’s very effective for the safety of our staff, but then also the community that we serve.”

Fleming said she doesn’t think switching to a hands-on policy is an option for security enforcement bodies on campus.

“That would totally change the set-up of the bars and the security that we’re trying to enforce,” she said. “I don’t think changing it would increase how safe people feel on campus. I think that would decrease the atmosphere that we’re going for.”

Recent provincial legislation will require that all paid security employees receive increased training and an exam before being certified to work. Bill 159 could affect StuCon and Walkhome training.

Ultimately, Nichols said, it is impossible to guarantee that tragedies such as Schwieg’s death do not recur.

“That’s why we have a police force and that’s why it’s used on a daily basis,” he said. “We can try and prevent those things from happening but I believe, unfortunately, that’s way, way beyond the control of anybody that runs or operates a bar, anybody that runs or operates security.”

Macpherson agreed.

“The random, senseless act of violence ... how do you control that?”

While Fleming said most students are more in control when they’re at a campus bar—due in part to the effectiveness of the threat of a tri-pub ban and prosecution by JComm as deterrents to rowdy behaviour—she said the safe atmosphere of campus pubs also arises from the respect students feel for StuCons.

“People coming to the bar don’t feel that sort of intimidation factor that they may feel going to bouncers [whom] they don’t know, or going to pubs in the Hub that have huge bouncers [whom] they can’t relate to,” she said. “I think that we’re respected more because we are their peers.”

Patterson said the feeling of security students have when on campus is also attributable to the special lighting, emergency phones and services such as Walkhome that exist on campus.

“On campus we have a good secure infrastructure, i.e. good access to emergency phone systems, [and] we’re constantly ensuring that lighting is operable and up-to-date,” he said. “I do know that students are appreciative of the level of security infrastructure which is in place and the level of patrolling that we have on campus.”

Patterson said Campus Security is constantly looking into ways to make campus safer for students, whether by providing more emergency phones, trimming hedges to improve sightlines or adding better lighting.

Also important, Patterson said, is getting feedback from students to ensure that the safety measures being taken are effective.

“It’s always important to obtain feedback and input to ensure that we’re committing the proper resources,” he said.

Patterson said one way of providing feedback is through a survey currently on the Campus Security website, which he encouraged students to fill out.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.