The eternal struggle between town and gown saw things tip in favour of town on Thursday when the Guelph Police Services Board voted to send an itemized invoice of police costs for homecoming and the Safe Semester initiative to the University of Guelph with a directive to come up with a new plan that has the U of G cover some, if not all, of the costs.
Mayor Cam Guthrie, who advanced the motion, said the “financial impacts to the (police) service obviously flow down to the taxpayers of Guelph,” and that, “in my view enough is enough.”
Can you tell there’s an election in exactly one year?
But seriously, I understand the core thesis here: Thousands and thousands of dollars are spent securing one event which has now grown beyond the confines of the university campus even though its essentially a university event. Homecoming is supposed to be about welcoming past alumni to campus for a ceremonial football game and other reunion activities, and now it’s just another debauch.
I understand the community concern, but I also know what it’s like to be a U of G student. I didn’t party during Homecoming. I didn’t really have a chance because I worked weekends (and some weekdays) to be able to afford to go to school.
So I also know what it’s like to get lumped in with the nogoodniks, the ones who give all U of G students a bad name. All it takes is one negative encounter with a drunk and hostile young person to sour someone on the whole population of U of G students, whether the person they encountered is an actual U of G student or not.
To wit, the person who received the most severe charge from the unsanctioned party on Chancellors Way, shooting fireworks at other revelers, was a 19-year-old man from Mississauga who was not a U of G student.
Would he still have come to Guelph to shoot fireworks at people had there been no Homecoming party? Probably not, but you can’t say for sure either way.
By the numbers, around 2,000-2,500 people took part in the Chancellors Way party, which represents around 10 per cent of the undergrad population at the U of G. If the approved motion of the police board is to be understood, then 90 per cent of U of G’s students have just been made financially liable for the frivolity of the other 10.
Does that sound fair, especially when we can’t even say for certain how many people in that mass were actually U of G students?
And to be sure, this is not a Guelph problem. As pointed out at the board meeting, a lot of university towns in Ontario were hammered by Homecoming a lot harder than us, but weirdly Waterloo wasn’t one them. Ezra Avenue, practically infamous on an international scale for student parties, was practically dead during this year’s homecoming. Do we know why that is?
The motion is also problematic because the police board also wants to push the U of G to cover the cost of “other unsanctioned gatherings connected to the University of Guelph,” with St. Patrick’s Day specifically cited. Here’s the thing, can we serious quantify St. Patrick’s Day as an event “connected to the University of Guelph”? Or Halloween, which also prompts a lot of private parties?
So who gets the bill? This is another area that the motion was less than specific about. If Homecoming is creating these issues, shouldn’t the U of G’s athletic department and the alumni association take fiscal responsibility? But if that’s the case, which department do you charge for halloween? The Guelph Pagan Society?
But seriously, will the board go to the Central Student Association, or the executive offices on the fifth floor of the U.C.? Will there now be a line on student tuition invoices that covers their portion of police funding, “party insurance” or something like that? And if the Ontario government re-introduces a directive like the Student Choice Initiative, will students be able to opt out of that additional fee?
And let’s not forget the inherent hypocrisy here because the city is more than willing to enjoy the economic benefits of 20,000 extra students in town, like the weekly pub crawls that keep our downtown core financially viable, and the young work force that fills out service industry jobs and volunteer positions that enhance life here in Guelph.
Every Gryphon knows the shame of wearing the scarlet ‘S’ when student life gets out of hand, and the mayor has now attached a literal payment for the acts of a few bad apples to all U of G students. Adding insult to injury, young people have no representation at the police board, and I doubt there’s a single person there under the age of 40.
Now none of this is to say that there isn’t some responsibility on the part of the U of G, or the students and others that take part in unsanctioned gatherings. Of course, there is! And while giving the university a campus-wide ticket for a loud party might feel good, it doesn’t address the root causes or make the students part of the solution.
Town may have won this round, but the war will continue.