On Campus

Queen’s cancels fall homecoming as safety concerns reach ‘critical point’

Three years after infamous car burning, the university cancels homecoming

Queen’s University has cancelled its traditional fall homecoming for the next two years, citing an “unprecedented number” of charges, violent incidents and injuries at this year’s event.

The event will be replaced by a “homecoming-styled” reunion in May 2009 and 2010, said a letter sent to the university’s alumni.

The problems stem from an informal street party whose timing coincides with the fall homecoming, but is not sanctioned by the university.

During the Saturday of the recent September homecoming weekend, about 8,000 mostly drunken revellers took over Aberdeen Street in the university’s student village. An estimated 300 police officers, including four riot squads, were on hand to maintain order. The final police tab was about $300,000.

Tom Williams, the school’s principal and vice-chancellor, said in the letter that university staff, students and police have been working to contain the “volatile” situation.

“Despite our best efforts, the situation has worsened,” Williams wrote.

“Concerns for safety have been mounting steadily and are now at a critical point.”

The most recent gathering was “the largest yet and resulted in an unprecedented number of police charges, arrests, violent incidents and injuries,” he wrote.

Police made nearly 140 arrests this year and laid almost 700 liquor charges while 23 severely intoxicated people ended up in hospital emergency rooms. All of this occurred despite the refusal of local beer stores to sell kegs to students on homecoming weekend.

The problems go back several years. In 2005, revellers flipped and burned a car and threw beer bottles at police.

The undergraduate student union appeared to agree with the university’s decision, with its president saying it’s “regrettable” the unsanctioned street party has hurt the Queen’s community.

“Principal Williams had a difficult decision to make in order to avert this annual cycle of dangerous events and the negative publicity that has adversely affected our school’s reputation in the past few years,” said Talia Radcliffe, president of the Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University, which represents nearly 14,000 students.

Some students view the university’s plan as a cancellation of homecoming altogether, Radcliffe said.

“There are some people that are upset by the idea of moving homecoming,” she said.

In an interview, Williams downplayed those suggestions.

“Homecoming is about alumni coming back to the campus, getting together with old friends, renewing acquaintances on campus, speaking to professors and to students,” he said. The May event will also coincide with the university’s spring convocation.

– The Canadian Press

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