Kingston, Ont. prepares for another Queen's University homecoming weekend under COVID
KINGSTON, ONT. -- As Queen’s University homecoming weekend begins, officials in Kingston, Ont. say they don’t want to see a return of large street parties thrown by students.
Homecoming traditionally brings the students and alumni to the city, and unofficial events of years past have included massive street parties throughout the weekend.
However, under Ontario's COVID-19 rules, parties with more than 100 people outside and 25 inside are banned.
In September, the start of the school year was plagued by large, unsanctioned gatherings, attended by thousands in the University District. It’s something Kyle Compeau of Kingston Bylaw, says the city has spent weeks preparing to see again.
"We’re bracing for that," he confirms.
In the past, an increased police presence would be felt for the official homecoming weekend. Compeau says that new enforcement measures mean extending a crackdown for a full three weeks, and putting every officer on shift.
"For the next three weekends, on Thursday, Friday, Saturdays, they’ll be boots on the ground, a heavier enforcement presence in the University District and continuing with a zero tolerance approach," said Compeau.
Police numbers confirm thousands attended the street parties in the fall, with dozens of various charges laid in September alone.
Queen’s University has had to foot the bill, giving $350,000 to the city of Kingston to help pay for costs associated with the illegal gatherings.
Still fourth-year students like Lauren Strathdee say while they themselves will stay away, they expect the parties will happen anyway.
"I don’t think that anything’s going to be able to stop the first and second years that haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate a big Homecoming like this."
Queen’s University students have to be vaccinated to be on campus, and official homecoming events have been moved online.
Still, on Thursday, Principal Patrick Dean sent a message to students, asking them to not to attend larger events.
"I am asking for your assistance in helping contain the social gatherings and to act responsibly over the coming weekends," read the letter. "Being fully vaccinated is not a pass to ignore Ontario’s gathering limits...As members of both the Queen’s and Kingston community, we all must demonstrate leadership, respect one another and be mindful and aware of the provincial laws and local bylaws that are in place to protect us. No one is above the law."
Homecoming usually draws alumni and other visitors to Kingston. In a statement, Mayor Bryan Paterson says he hopes this year they reconsider.
"The pandemic is not yet behind us and the risks at large gatherings remain
s real," said Paterson. "If you’re considering coming to Kingston to attend a party and you’re not from here, now is not the time. I suggest you take the time to read through my recent emergency order, the fines and consequences associated with attending a party that violates provincial allowances, and the other measures we have in place to address unsanctioned parties.”