Expanding the scope of student conduct

 Queen’s students are Kingston residents

Brandon P. Tyrell.
Brandon P. Tyrell.

Criminal records shouldn’t be a cost associated with repairing the University’s reputational damage within the Kingston community.

Under the new University District Safety Initiative, certain offences during Frosh Week, Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day, and any offences under the Kingston’s Nuisance Party Bylaw, will be issued a Part 1 summons to appear in court, as opposed to just receiving a ticket. 

This initiative begs the question of whether attending Queen’s—which serves as an enrollment into excellence—is worth a potential criminal record.

Students who are issued a summons will appear on the public court docket. Irrespective of what’s proven in court, the ways in which a student’s peers, family, faculty and community members would perceive them would likely be impacted. 

The recent initiative wouldn’t only have short-term effects on students, but also on their long-term future potential.  

Legal certainty is necessary for a law to be an effective mechanism to govern behaviour, as it provides those who are subjected to it with the ability to make their decisions accordingly. 

The decisions of a rational person are balanced between their desired outcomes and possible punishment. But each student’s obligation under the recent initiative is only in effect during certain days of the year, and its jurisdictional limitations are undefined. 

In effect, the practical application of this measure and its unpredictable nature leaves the probability of its success somewhat murky.  

Following the initiative, the Queen’s Student Code of Conduct expanded so that a violation of municipal, provincial or federal law is now in breach of a contractual agreement. Before the recent changes to the Code, the degree of the University’s power over matters involving public law was limited to circumstances where a student aided in the commission of a criminal offence. 

Much of these jurisdictional changes came as a result of the University facing an insurmountable issue whereby individuals falling outside the scope of the Code are negatively impacting its reputation. 

During these types of weekends, students, external friends and alumni filter into Kingston to collectively celebrate, and oftenquite intensely.

Every year, the University District is littered with garbage for days after major street parties. Broken glass prevents people and pets from walking around, or to, campus safely; local hospitals experience backlogs with patients recovering from over drinking.

At its worst, riots have started where police have been assaulted and property has been irreparably damaged. In 2009, Queen’s cancelled Homecoming after years of rowdy partying in the University District—a car was even flipped once

These were all instances where excellence has been replaced by patterns of negligence and disrespect.

Person by person, arrest by arrest, patient by patient. Not holding those who have done wrong accountable damages the University’s reputation. Homecoming has been cancelled in the past to mitigate reputational damage. The decision was made in hopes of addressing the reckless behaviour often seen during the event.

More recently, though, the Nuisance Party Bylaw was introduced as a means of controlling and dispersing people in the chance where an event becomes of public nuisance. This law stipulates that, if need be, additional enforcement options beyond those accessible to bylaw enforcers would be made available.

Kingston Police now have the authority to order anyone not residing at a given location that’s deemed to be a public nuisance to leave the premises immediately.  The previous mandate stated that multiple notices to leave—not just one—had to be given before a person had to evacuate a given location.

At nearby academic institutions, such as St. Lawrence College, the scope of student conduct extends to actions which take place in settings of legitimate interest: college-sanctioned activities, campus property, co-op placements, or in circumstances where a student’s action disenfranchises another member of the college.

At Queen’s, a university student is also a Kingston resident. 

By expanding the scope to breaches of public law, the University can now respond to media outlets when asked about its efforts to address students’ behaviour in the community—rather than suggesting these students fall outside the University’s jurisdiction. 

However, making laws that only apply during certain times of the year—and having students show up on the public court docket—is nothing short of systemically shifting the effects of reputational damage.  It places the burden on specific students and invokes life-long implications for their actions.

Participating in the culture that Queen’s has evolved into is not something students should be penalized for. Condemning students’ wrong-doings is one thing, implementing a mechanism that places names on the public court docket are another affair.  

Somewhere in pursuit of being the best party school in Canada, many have lost sight of the reason behind weekends like Homecoming—to celebrate a tradition of excellence.

Student development is a progression and may not always be linear. When a person in pursuit of excellence quits prematurely, they never know how close they are to achieving their goal. 

Penalizing students who participate in the culture that Queen’s has become doesn’t foster a learning environment that supports each student’s unique development towards integrity.

Brandon P. Tyrrell is a fifth-year philosophy and political studies student.

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