7 arrested following impromptu homecoming party near McMaster University
'Like most of the residents who live in that area, I'm outraged,' says councillor
McMaster University said Sunday it will be "cooperating fully" with Hamilton police and supporting their work to identify those who participated in any illegal activities during what it is calling a "fake homecoming" event on Saturday.
Police said they arrested and charged two individuals for Liquor Licence Act Offences, as well as five individuals for "breach of the peace/cause disturbance," during the incident.
Sean Van Koughnett, associate vice president and dean of students, said it might be a challenge to identify students who were involved in behaviour that qualifies for disciplinary action, however sanctioning students is an option.
"Our student code allows for those sanctions. We are able to expel and suspend," Koughnett told CBC Hamilton.
"If the behaviour warrants it and it's within the scope of our code we will sanction appropriately, and expulsion and suspension is on the table."
Saturday's impromptu homecoming party attracted "several thousand people," the university said.
Koughnett said McMaster purposely did not have an official homecoming event this year, but added that regardless of efforts to quell "large mobs getting together," young people want to do that and they'll often find a way.
White Mazda flipped over and damaged
According to Hamilton police, at approximately 12:30 p.m. — just before McMaster Marauders' first home game of the year kicked off — officers responded to a large gathering in the Ainslie Wood area near McMaster University.
By 2 p.m., the crowd had expanded to approximately 5,000 people, police said, and police closed several streets in the area for safety reasons, they said.
"Glass bottles, cans and other objects were thrown at officers and one police vehicle was damaged as a result. There were no serious reported injuries, but several individuals were treated for injuries consistent with falling and other blunt forces as well as excessive alcohol consumption," a police statement released Sunday said.
Investigators are reviewing video and images from the event and are appealing for assistance in identifying those responsible for damaging and flipping over a white Mazda, with one person of interest already identified.
Councillor requests meeting with McMaster, is 'outraged'
In response to Saturday's events, Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson said the university should pay for costs associated with clean up.
"This is unacceptable & dangerous. Someone is going to get killed," she wrote on Twitter Saturday.
Koughnett responded, telling CBC: "We are as frustrated as she is around the behaviour of [some students]."
He also said with 35,000 students enrolled at McMaster, the vast majority were not involved in Saturday's event and it's not helpful to point fingers right now.
McMaster president and vice-chancellor David Farrar also called the actions "completely unacceptable" and apologized to "our neighbours, our emergency workers and every other students" for the disruptions, disrespect of property and disregard of those who live in our community.
According to Farrar, "fake homecoming" events have become all too common at universities across the province, and said the university worked proactively with police and city by-law officers in advance of Saturday. It also doubled the usual number of off-duty officers it hired to assist with policing work in the neighbourhood, he said.
In an interview with CBC Hamilton Sunday, coun. Wilson said she has requested a meeting with the university.
"Like most of the residents who live in that area, I'm outraged and hold the university responsible and I hold those students responsible," she said.
Wilson said she received a call from a concerned daughter of an older woman who lived in the area and was afraid to leave her home Saturday. "How would you feel if that was your mother in there?" she asked.
The spread of COVID-19 is just an added element this year, she said, adding that events like these have always been of concern.
"When students are here to study, I see them as residents. So I will advocate for their health and their safety but when you are here as a resident, you have responsibilities. Act like an adult and be responsible."
Ken Ockenden, a retired physician who has lived near campus for 40 years, said he was out in the neighbourhood several times Saturday and said rowdy crowds seemed to be isolated.
"I saw a huge number of students not causing problems at all. I have no doubt there may have been nests of disorderly people," Ockenden told CBC Hamilton.
"These people were not socially distancing and not masked... As a retired physician, that is a major issue to me but I recognize ... they are human, they are young and getting used to university."
In addition to COVID-19 concerns, police had also been on on alert in the area last week after an assault was reported nearby.
Just before 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, police said a lone victim was assaulted by an unknown man while walking the Caleb's Walk Trail in the area of Dalewood Crescent and Oak Knoll Drive near campus.
Police are seeking the public's assistance in identifying the suspect from the assault.
The man, who police said is between 25 to 30 years old with tanned skin, semi-muscular build, shaved hair on the sides and a black ponytail at the top of his head, was last seen running west along the trail. Police said he was wearing a white t-shirt and carrying a black backpack.
With files from Eva Salinas