Reluctant council to close Aberdeen

If Homecoming goes badly University will consider cancelling event: Deane

For the second year in a row, Aberdeen Street will be closed on Homecoming Saturday, but Kingston’s city council isn’t happy about it.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council voted unanimously to grant the AMS’ request to have the street barricaded at both ends from 8 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday morning.

Consensus didn’t come without a fight. The motion to allow the street closure was amended to include the proviso that a favourable vote doesn’t imply consent.

The issue at the top of the minds of much of council was the strategy Queen’s and the AMS would adopt to end parties on Aberdeen Street altogether.

Councillor Steve Garrison of Kingscourt-Strathcona asked if Queen’s is prepared to cancel Homecoming if the situation doesn’t improve.

“We are open to every course possible to deal with this thing,” said Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane.

In response to questions from council members if the University would consider changing the date of Homecoming to sometime in February, Deane said it will depend on the events of this year. He added that he doesn’t believe changing the date would deter large numbers of people from coming from out of town for the party.

Deane said last year’s event, which saw upwards of 7,000 people on Aberdeen Street but was deemed safer and less hostile than the previous year’s street party, was “progress, not success.” He said Queen’s is prepared to expel students for serious misconduct which he said would have to include more than mere presence on the street.

“They have been put on notice today by the principal that expulsion is a possible consequence,” he said.

“Quite radical action could be expected to follow if the event goes badly.”

Faculty deans sent their students e-mails and Principal Karen Hitchcock published a letter in the Journal and on the University’s website warning students to behave.

Should the University wish to change the date or cancel Homecoming it would consult the Alumni Association, Deane said.

“Homecoming is essentially an alumni event,” he said.

Deane said discussion of postponement and cancellation was much more prominent after Homecoming 2005.

After closing the street last year made significant improvements in the eyes of the administration, talks were set aside for the time being.

“This year will be a test,” he said. “If, on the night, the approach seems to have not been successful then I think people can expect the discussion to begin again.”

He said financial loss isn’t a factor in the discussion.

“The University doesn’t really claim financial benefit from having Homecoming.” Alumni Association President Dan Rees said most Queen’s graduates view Homecoming and the Aberdeen street party as two different entities.

“I said to them all the way along there’s a difference between Aberdeen and Homecoming, and switching the date of Homecoming doesn’t change Homecoming. … Changing the date doesn’t change the problem.”

He added, however, that if he felt a date change needed to be part of an overall strategy for improvement, he would be open to it.

“If a drunk student from Waterloo falls into a pit because him and nine buddies pushed a fence in, we’re not canceling Homecoming.”

When partiers start breaking laws and disrupting permanent residents is when the line needs to be drawn, he said, adding that most alumni are sympathetic to students.

Garrison said he thinks approving the closure gave the impression the city was approving the party.

Police Chief Bill Closs said police have the authority to close Aberdeen Street, but only after the situation has escalated.

“We do have the authority to close the street but we believe having the street closed through a partnership with the city and Queen’s and the AMS is the best way to go,” he said. “Police can’t close until it’s an emergency and then it’s a reaction.”

Sydenham Ward councillor Bill Glover said the issue of student partying extends beyond Homecoming weekend.

Glover said this year’s road closure would be a one-time deal.

Deane replied that he hopes that will be the case but there’s no way to tell until after this year’s party.

“Our goal would be not to come to council next year with a request to close the street.”

But Deane added that the issue of public safety may leave Queen’s with no choice but to request the closure for a third year.

“I don’t feel it’s a matter of principle whether or not we come back to.”

Lakeside District councillor Dorothy Hector voted in favour of the closure but said she thinks the city is being bullied by the University.

“I don’t believe the cream of Canada is at Queen’s. I believe it is across the river,” she said. “Those men and women of the same age group will give their lives for their community and their country.”

Deane said he felt Hector’s comments were inappropriate.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable to generalize from there all the students of the University and to engage in a discussion of the merits of Queen’s University students as compared to students at the Royal Military College.”

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