Dalhousie, Canadian Party Life trade blame after large, violent street party
'I think we saw a lot of really damaging, harmful, destructive behaviour,' says Dalhousie vice-provost
Dalhousie University administrators and the owners of an Instagram account are blaming each other for a violent, chaotic party that included fireworks, an impromptu bonfire, and a stabbing — all documented on social media.
An estimated 4,000 revellers hit the streets on Saturday night in the residential area bordering Dalhousie University's campus in Halifax's south end. Halifax Regional Police said in a statement on Sunday that officers who tried to disperse the crowd were assaulted and other emergency responders weren't allowed in to put out fires or remove injured people because of safety concerns.
Rick Ezekiel, Dalhousie's vice-provost of student affairs, said in an interview on Monday that he was "disappointed and dismayed" at how things escalated on Saturday.
"I think we saw a lot of really damaging, harmful, destructive behaviour toward first responders, toward the community and the physical spaces," Ezekiel said.
In memos to the student body, Ezekiel and Dalhousie president Deep Saini have blamed the Canadian Party Life (CPL) Instagram account for its "reckless ambition and influence" in promoting a "toxic party lifestyle." The account has been used to advertise street parties in the past, including those attended by Dalhousie students, and posts clips from street parties submitted by followers.
After Saturday's party, the CPL account featured a snippet of students lighting fireworks in a crowd while police tried to intervene, among other posts.
CBC News contacted the administrators of the CPL Instagram account for an interview. Instead, they provided a statement but did not identify who wrote it or sent it.
The statement said CPL believes Dalhousie "handled the situation inadequately."
"CPL understands that Dalhousie wanted to warn their students, however, we do not believe that sending a mass email warning [students] about our page was the way to address the issue at hand," the statement read.
"The email that was sent out caused us to gain over 1000 new followers. Social media has a heavy influence in today's society, however, we would have appreciated if Dalhousie directly reached out to us and asked us to host a contained event at the school or surrounding community."
Parties 'more intense,' residents say
One local resident says that compared to previous homecoming parties, this year's was bigger and much more intense.
Dr. Caitlin Lees, who spoke with CBC last month about her concerns surrounding the party, lives on Larch Street and told Maritime Noon's Bob Murphy the weekend was marked by mayhem.
"It was quite loud and unruly, lots of students spilling out onto resident's properties, including my own," Lees said. "Some people [were] urinating and defecating along my property line, including on the side of my house. I saw somebody using cocaine and then a lot of belligerence as well."
In a release issued Sunday, Halifax Regional Police said officers who tried to disperse the crowd were "were met with a high level of resistance," and were assaulted. Some required medical treatment for their injuries.
"A fire was set in the street using downed branches from the storm in an attempt to prevent officers from dispersing the crowd," the release said. "Officers had to bring a number of injured people out of the area, including a man who suffered injuries as a result of being stabbed."
Const. John MacLeod said during a press conference Monday that the investigation into the stabbing is ongoing, and added that police were surprised by the response on Saturday.
"It was not what we had anticipated," MacLeod said. "In previous years, we had had cooperation from the students, but this year, it was extremely concerning to meet not only resistance but violent behaviour."
There's no exact number yet, but MacLeod said dozens of summary offence tickets were given out on Saturday and several arrests were made. He added that resources from throughout the city had to be called on to respond to the raucous event.
"There were thousands of people there and, certainly, there were not thousands of police officers."
No easy solutions to stop future parties
Aparna Mohan, president of the Dalhousie Student Union, told CBC's Maritime Noon on Monday some of what she saw in streets just north of Dalhousie's campus was "disgusting."
"It's a foregone conclusion that what I saw and what we all saw from students, especially the extreme actions that were described, are unacceptable," Mohan said.
She was stationed at a harm reduction booth during the day on Saturday, she said, and made her way to the party after getting a text from a fellow student who said they felt "unsafe" because police had begun using pepper spray on people in the crowd.
As the size of the unsanctioned street parties has increased, stakeholders have tried to think of possible tools to combat the popularity of these events. Ezekiel noted that the issue of these large street parties is not unique to Dalhousie and has been the concern of post-secondary institutions across the country.
"If any of us had a simple solution, we'd have done it," said Ezekiel.
Mohan suggested Dalhousie should consider hosting a sanctioned homecoming party on campus. She said there's been "quiet support" from university staff, but there is also hesitancy to hold such an event and bear any of its possible consequences.
"There isn't top-down alignment when it comes to the institution overall and their willingness to put their name on something that could potentially have spin-off offshoots off campus that will then be associated with Dalhousie," she said.
Ezekiel said the school is working on engaging with the student body to get a sense of who planned the event, and how Dalhousie can work to discourage future parties.
"We are interested in continuing to grow the vibrancy of our campus community," he said. "We will continue that collaborative framework [by] inviting all of our partners to the table and trying to have a coordinated approach to using the various tools we have at our disposal to try to solve this."
- 'I don't know what I'm going to do': Nova Scotians still struggling with power outages 11 days after Fiona
With files from Jane Sponagle, Adrien Blanc and Maritime Noon