Students & city sound off

About 100 people attended the first annual student-city forum to discuss municipal issues.
About 100 people attended the first annual student-city forum to discuss municipal issues.

Students met face to face with city officials and members of the administration Tuesday night for the first time since the unsanctioned Aberdeen Street party, where they asked questions and voiced their opinions regarding the ensuing controversy.

Mayor Harvey Rosen and Police Chief Bill Closs joined a nine-member panel in Wallace Hall to address Homecoming and other municipal issues.

Approximately 100 people—the majority of whom were students—attended the forum.

“Queen’s students are not outsiders … they’re my neighbours,” panellist Floyd Patterson, city councillor for Sydenham district, told those assembled. “Every year we start out with this warm feeling … [but] somehow this gets way off track.” Other panellists included Insp. Brian Cookman of the Kingston Police Force, Town-Gown Relations Coordinator Joan Jones, Janice Deakin, acting dean of student affairs, Assistant Fire Chief Robert Kidd, Williamsville District City Councillor Ed Smith, and William Glover, chair of the Sydenham Ward Tenants’ and Ratepayers Association.

After the speakers’ brief introductory remarks, 14 students from the audience engaged the panel for nearly two hours, asking questions and making comments.

The AMS-organized event, entitled “Bridge the Gap,” was meant to provide an opportunity for dialogue between students and the city.

Many of the panellists said they were opposed to cancelling Homecoming and were open to suggestions and further dialogue.

“I believe that we’ll have a better Homecoming next year,” Closs said. “I hope that we can work through some solutions.”

Rosen said the lines of communication between the University and the city are open, and he believes all parties can work together to prevent a recurrence of an unlawful event on Aberdeen Street next year.

“I certainly don’t support—at this point in time, anyway—the cancelling of Homecoming,” he said.

Closs said a solution to the problem does not rest with the police, but with everyone involved.

“The turning over of the car, the burning of the car, should be a wake-up call for everyone involved,” he said. “We cannot allow that to happen next year.”

Panellists also responded to comments by some students, who suggested the possibility of sanctioning what some students have called an Aberdeen “tradition.” “If the city wants to engage the University in making this a sanctioned event … we’re always there,” said Cookman, who oversaw the police presence in the Ghetto over Homecoming weekend.

Closs said turning Aberdeen into a sanctioned event would be complicated.

“If the city could find some way, legally and properly, of shutting down Aberdeen Street for the weekend, that might help,” he said, adding that even if the city closed the street to traffic, illegal activities such as those that occurred on Aberdeen this year would not be condoned.

Patterson said he thinks a sanctioned party is a good idea.

“Just apply to city council for a street-closing permit,” he said. “Students can do that.”

Patterson added that blocking a street without a permit is illegal under Ontario law.

“That’s an important factor right there to consider,” he said.

Rosen said sanctioning Aberdeen could be problematic.

“There would be some serious problems with [a sanctioned Aberdeen party],” he said.

In addition to obtaining a liquor licence from the fire department, $2 million would have to be put forward as insurance, and the number of attendees would have to be limited according to safety regulations, he explained.

“It would make Aberdeen un-Aberdeen like—probably not very attractive for the students,” Rosen said. Some students also expressed concerns about the increased police presence on Aberdeen Street the Saturday night of Homecoming weekend.

“This year things were different. There was this very palpable sense of confrontation in the air,” said Gord McGuire, former AMS municipal affairs commissioner. “All evidence is saying that more police and more confrontation is only going to make things worse.

“Why are we as a community moving towards paying $500,000 for riot gear and Tasers and more cops?”

Closs said the confrontational impression students may have perceived was a misunderstanding.

“My officers are out there, and they know their job is to keep that road open—they’re getting tenser and tenser,” he said.

Closs said his advice for next year’s Homecoming is the same as it was for this year’s event.

“We need voluntary compliance,” he said. “We will lose Aberdeen Street next year, with the same 100 officers or with 150, unless you help us.”

Closs added that police didn’t want a confrontation.

“I tied [Cookman’s] hands this year,” he said. “He was told to use minimal force.”

Closs also said in the time leading up to next year’s Homecoming, the police force needs to feel it has a secure partnership with the students.

“The way things are going now, we have to do something different next year—and that means crank it up,” he said.

Asked by McGuire whether he was open to the option of not increasing the number police as a solution, Closs was definitive in his answer.

“Absolutely,” he said, standing up and gesturing towards the audience. “Let me say something: I would rather not have any officers on Aberdeen. But you have to come up with a solution. Don’t leave it for us.”

Patterson agreed.

“[Our goal is to] make strong-arm police intervention unnecessary next year,” he said. “We want to be fellow human beings, and join with you in a celebration that doesn’t harm anybody or upset the neighbours.”

AMS President Ethan Rabidoux asked Rosen, Closs and Cookman about the police’s recent proposal to purchase new equipment to enforce order.

Closs responded that while he didn’t want to use equipment such as Tasers, the use of such equipment remains an option.

“At the end of the day, we will do whatever’s necessary to prevent illegal action,” he said. “If we do end up having to bring in that equipment, then either the residents of the city as a whole are going to have to pay for that, or Queen’s University will.” Some students said they were open to working together with police and city officials.

Patterson said he was pleased with the suggestion of students and residents working together in the community.

“That’s a terrific idea,” he said. “[A student-resident event] would be widely supported in the community.”

Smith said initiatives by students to collectively reimburse people who had suffered damage because of events on Aberdeen were a good idea.

“I commend students for doing that,” he said.

There were also points in the forum where students and officials disagreed.

Brian Foreman, ArtSci ’06, said he thinks the street party on Aberdeen is a tradition, and that some students feel police are taking this away from them.

“When someone tries to take something from you, you tend to retaliate,” he said.

Closs disagreed.

“If you’re asking the police to turn a blind eye on liquor offences … I’m sorry, but we can’t do that,” he said. “There’s too much liability on our part.”

Glover said as an alumnus, he doesn’t consider Aberdeen a tradition.

“I don’t know when Aberdeen Street became, as you describe it, a tradition, but it’s not been around very long,” he said. “[This idea that] it’s all right for students to disregard the law … I find that very upsetting for Queen’s, which has had such a tremendous tradition of public service.”

Rosen agreed.

“Traditions that include the breaking of law are not traditions that you want to perpetuate,” he said.

William Howe, ArtSci ’07, questioned panellists regarding the request by police for the University to pay $84,000 to cover the cost of the 100 police officers who patrolled the Ghetto Sept. 24.

“It seems unfair to ask the University to pay for something that wasn’t sanctioned, that wasn’t only [caused by] Queen’s students,” he said.

Closs said he felt the request was justified.

“The party on Aberdeen occurred during a sanctioned Homecoming weekend,” he said. “A lot of the parties are on student residences on Aberdeen Street. The University may not pay the bill, but I don’t feel shy about asking them to pay.”

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