Kingston, Ont., steels itself for possibility of 2nd unofficial Queen's homecoming weekend

Fines have been raised, names have been shared and arrests were made, but still the street parties continued. Now, Kingston is bracing to do it all over again next weekend.

With Kingston, Ont., still reeling over an intense Queen’s University homecoming weekend, one that included 8,000-person street parties and fights with police, city officials are bracing for another weekend that may be just like it.

Homecoming was initially planned over two weekends, starting last Thursday and meant to end Oct. 24. The split celebrations were meant to give those who missed homecoming last year a chance to celebrate over one weekend, and alumni a chance on another.

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The university then changed its plans and scheduled homecoming events to end on Oct. 17 and coincide with the end of reading week.

Still, plans seem to be in the works for what students and one popular YouTube influencer are dubbing “foco” or “fake-hoco” this coming weekend.

“Fake hoco will be taking place on Oct. 23,” said Jack Denmo, in his YouTube movie made about the past weekend at Queen’s.

Denmo makes a living off of creating videos that cater to Canadian university student party culture, and has recently made similar movies about the Western and McMaster homecoming events.

Global News went to Queen’s campus Tuesday to gauge whether a second weekend of unsanctioned festivities could be in the works.

Most who spoke said they were aware of the second unofficial homecoming weekend.

“Yes, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be one next week. I don’t think the students really care that much that people got arrested and stuff. Like, it’s Queen’s, it’s a party school, so I’m pretty sure it’s still going to happen,” said Queen’s student, Kajanan Shanmugarajah.

The plans are not lost on city enforcement. In a joint news release from Monday, Kingston city bylaw and police say they are beefing up staffing for this coming weekend in case more unsanctioned street parties take place. Officials are expecting visitors to be travelling to Kingston for the festivities.

“While many community members may be vaccinated, visitors from out of town for gatherings that make physical distancing and other public health measures almost impossible are extremely concerning,” the release said.

The message came with a warning from Kingston’s new medical officer of health, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, who took Dr. Kieran Moore’s old spot Monday.

“We recognize that the impact of COVID-19 has been particularly stressful for young adults; however, large gatherings of people not following social gathering limits and rules is counterproductive to the efforts and safety measures that have been put in place to protect our community and to keep everyone safe and healthy,” Oglaza said.

Parties like the ones seen in Kingston this past weekend, and expected for next weekend, have not been isolated to Queen’s University. Some party-goers have been taking advantage of homecoming weekends across the province.

Queen’s principal Patrick Deane noted that some of the people who attended the rowdy homecoming celebrations last weekend were not Queen’s students at all.

“We know that there has been a kind of a travelling group attending these homecoming events across the province, causing a similar level of disruption in different communities,” he said.

As for consequences for the party-goers, at least 100 individuals were issued some kind of ticket for the events that took place in the University District this past weekend. Three people face criminal charges for obstructing police, and the city has threatened to name nearly 60 people in the media under its aggravated nuisance party bylaw.

But, it’s unclear if financial penalties are enough to dissuade party-goers, since the threat of increased fines before the last homecoming weekend didn’t dampen crowds that gathered by the thousands.

Deane has repeatedly said there will be consequences under the student code of conduct for those who breach COVID-19 regulations on- and off-campus, but many, including Kingston politicians, say these consequences have not been harsh enough.

“What I’m calling on, in a call to action, is for the university to, say, ‘Listen, if you’re charged and convicted of an offence during this special time when the city has put in special measures during special event weekends like this, you’ll be expelled from the school,” said Mark Gerretsen, MP Kingston and the Islands, on Monday.

In fact, most of the school’s non-academic code violations did not end up with any serious consequences last year.

According to code of conduct violation numbers published on the school’s website, over the 2019-2020 academic year, 123 students were found responsible for violations. That number shot up to 321 for the next academic year, the majority of which, 225, were “incidents related to guest policy in residence and large gatherings during COVID-19.”

Still, of the more than 300 violations found in the 2020-2021 academic year, only eight per cent received any corrective measures, while the vast majority, 84 per cent, were dealt with through educational measures.

Sanctions under the code can range from a written warning, a letter of reprimand, extra educational assignments to non-academic probation and expulsion.

But Deane has also made it clear that the code of conduct process is not meant to expel students without giving students a right to defend themselves and appeal decisions.

The principal said the school’s greatest challenge is not dealing with just one or two bad apples, but a culture that promotes the kind of behaviour seen over the past weekend.

“That sense of privilege, which underwrites the notion that, well, ‘Yes, so what? It’s just a fine added to my total cost.’ I mean, that is appalling, and it will take time to make progress on that particular aspect of cultural change. But it’s essential that we do it,” he said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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