Brock University administration, the City of St. Catharines and the Niagara Regional Police have been planning to make sure this St. Patrick’s Day is nothing like last year. In 2017, parties around the city drew more than 3,500 people to a single house on Jacobson Avenue and led to a number of complaints from residents. The festivities drew sharp condemnations from St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and Brock officials. However, according to St. Catharines City Councillor Matthew Harris, 2018 will be very different.
“There have been lots of complaints about student housing,” Harris explained. “In fairness, it’s not just about students. A lot of the problems, particularly around property maintenance and garbage, have to do more with absentee landlords. But what we want to do is be more proactive and enforce bylaws that are already on the books. There’s always going to be parties with university students, but the idea is to have respect for your neighbours and their homes.”
Harris explained that there has been a planned coordination of efforts between Brock, St. Catharines and Thorold municipal governments, bylaw enforcement, Niagara Regional Police and regional fire services. According to Harris, Brock is planning to pay for additional police officers to be out in force on March 17 in order to monitor and handle any situations. Harris promised there would be a “visible presence of police” in neighbourhoods that have experienced issues involving student parties. Although the idea is in the planning stages, Harris named Jacobson Avenue and Masterson Drive as problem areas where the city and police would have a heavy presence.
“Both Brock and the city of St. Catharines have been good at tracking down student parties on social media,” Harris stated. “And the city is good at enforcing bylaws. The whole idea here is to have every party communicating with one another. That’s where the problems arise, from lack of communication and coordination. If Brock knows there is going to be a party on Jacobson, for example, they are now going to contact the city, who may send bylaw enforcement to do an inspection. This will put pressure on these landlords and hopefully stop some of these parties.”
Part of the plans involve having a literal ‘command centre’ at St. Catharine’s Fire Hall. This will allow police, fire, city officials and bylaw officers to all have a space together to communicate and launch a coordinated response. According to Harris, representatives from Brock University Students’ Union have also been active in the planning. There will be an additional meeting of all parties in early February to figure out a “game plan” for St. Patrick’s.
“Brock is good at setting expectations for its students,” Harris said. “It’s great to set expectations, but people don’t always follow through. What is the best way to change behaviour? To make someone feel pain. Police have to be much more effective and maybe a little more aggressive. The same rules should apply to students that apply to regular residents. Sometime I think what happens is the police say, ‘Oh, it’s just a kid’ and let them off with a warning. If you’re doing something like [urinating] on your neighbour’s lawn, maybe you should get fined or arrested. The point is, you can have fun but respect your neighbours.”
Harris is one of 12 councillors in St. Catharines who are elected to serve four-year terms. Harris represents the city’s second ward, St. Andrew’s, along with Councillor Joe Kushner, who teaches at Brock. St. Andrew’s consists of Glendridge Ave. St. Paul St. West, portions of Glendale Ave., and the surrounding neighbourhoods. Harris noted that he and Kushner are not only helping to plan the response to St. Patrick’s Day, but are planning to introduce a new housing bylaw that will regulate student homes. Harris explained the new bylaw may regulate the number of students living in a house.
“Renting is a business, and by licensing it you have control,” said Harris. “We are trying to encourage safety and proper parking behaviour. We’re always going to have rental properties in this city. In fact, Brock is vital to the city’s economic success. But the key is to manage them effectively.”
Last year’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities included a large party on Jacobson Ave., which led to complaints from nearby residents and police having to break up the gathering. Interim Brock president Tom Traves called the actions of students “deplorable” and Mayor Sendzik said the young adults involved should be “embarrassed.”
Relations between Brock students and residents of nearby neighbourhoods have worsened in recent months. A party on Winterberry Boulevard in Thorold last fall drew heated responses from homeowners and led to the creation of a Facebook group titled, “Thorold — A City Being Destroyed by Students.” A Brock student was also stabbed in an incident on Winterberry last October.
Bradley Clarke, the Director of Student Life and Community Experience at Brock, said that campus security, student wellness & accessibility, and off-campus living & neighbourhood relations would all be “partners” with the police and local municipalities in planning for St. Patrick’s Day.
“Each has a role to play in helping to ensure that our students who choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day can do so safely and without creating disruption or disturbance on campus or in the local communities,” Clarke said.
In response to Councillor Harris’ comments, Katie MacCabe, a Brock student and the federal & provincial research co-ordinator for BUSU, said the statements were “divisive” and reiterated that the focus should be on “safety first” and that Brock students should receive the same treatment as other residents.