Waterloo Region taxpayers continue to shell out nearly a million dollars per year for the unsanctioned Ezra Avenue parties that are held during homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day.
This year the impact may be even higher, as the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration saw approximately 33,000 people in attendance, a 50-per-cent increase over last year’s numbers that already cost taxpayers more than $713,000.
Emergency services increased their presence this year by looking to several other regions for assistance. Officers from Peel Region, London, Brantford and several other cities joined the efforts during the celebration at an increased cost from previous years.
“This year the density of the crowd was more significant than ever and caused them even greater concern,” Waterloo Regional Police Service Chief Bryan Larkin stated in a press release on Wednesday. “As we move forward, we will continue to meet with our community partners and members of the joint task force to find alternatives to this unlawful and extremely dangerous gathering.”
Officers laid 514 charges and arrested a total of 18 individuals over the course of the day. Charges laid included:
- Liquor Licence Act: 376 charges.
- Highway Traffic Act: 110 charges.
- Bylaw offences: 16 charges.
- Criminal Code offences: six charges (including assault, mischief, resist arrest and impaired-related offences).
- Trespass to Property Act: two charges.
- Cannabis Act: two charges.
- Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: one charge.
- Other offences: one charge.
Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services also reported that they saw an increased demand for service throughout the event. According to the report, a total of 80 calls were received, which resulted in 52 patients being transported by ambulance to local hospitals.
“The volume of patients and transports put significant pressure on our resources, as well as our local hospitals,” said Stephen Van Valkenburg, chief of Paramedic Services. “This event continues to be a significant public safety risk for the community and those involved in responding to the unsanctioned gathering.”
St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the only unsanctioned party held on Ezra Avenue every year. Last year’s homecoming party racked up approximately $221,000 in expenses for the added security and cleanup.
City officials say that the total cost of this year’s celebration is still being finalized and they may not have the final numbers available until later next month.
The growing popularity of the unsanctioned gatherings have local authorities and city officials very concerned, as the residential street is not designed nor capable of sustaining so many people safely.
A meeting was held by Waterloo city council on March 4, 2019, to discuss a special task force dedicated to finding a solution to the illegal gatherings that have been costing taxpayers for years. The task force is comprised of representatives from all levels of government and educational institutions including:
- City of Waterloo (CoW)
- Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS)
- Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services
- Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU)
- Wilfrid Laurier University Student Union (WLUSU)
- Wilfrid Laurier University Graduate Student Association
- University of Waterloo (UW)
- University of Waterloo Federation of Student (FEDS)
- University of Waterloo Graduate Student Union (GSA)
- Conestoga College (CC)
- Conestoga College Student Union (CCSU)
- Town and Gown Committee (T&G )
- Waterloo Catholic District School Board
- Waterloo Region District School Board
- Grand River Hospital
- MacGregor Albert Community Association
The task force is being funded by the University of Waterloo, Laurier, WRPS and the City of Waterloo, for a total budget of $40,000.
“The reality is there is no easy answer or single thing that can be introduced to end the event. During an unsanctioned event, our focus is on managing it and trying to keep attendees safe,” said Tony Lavarone, director of communications for the City of Waterloo. “The task force has a multi-year focus and right now it is conducting research to understand what is behind the growth of these gatherings and what can be done to better manage them.”
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day party happened to fall on a weekend; however, 2020 marks a leap year, which means that the annual party will fall on a Tuesday next year, possibly reducing the number of people attending the party. This will allow the city a few years to work on a solution to ending the parties.
“I mostly hear from people concerned about safety.” said Waterloo councillor Tenille Bonoguore. “Some residents stay inside their homes on that day or leave town if possible. They do their best to avoid it. Very loud house parties also dominate entire streets and can leave some people feeling besieged. The remaining litter is also a problem, as most cleanup efforts focus on Ezra, but there is significant impact in the student housing zones beyond that street.”
Bonoguore represents Ward 7, which includes Ezra Avenue and surrounding area.
“I haven’t received concerns from people on Ezra or nearby about damage to property. There are concerns about litter, noise and crowd behaviour, as well as some issues about trespassing. No one has approached me to discuss property damage, though,” she said.
The majority of the cleanup was being taken care of by local volunteers, but the city still has a lot of maintenance to the surrounding streets that can take several days to clear. The damage to property can take much longer, as the area quickly becomes a giant mudslide.
Shannon Kaufman, a Waterloo resident, was part of a volunteer cleanup crew that worked hard to keep up with the wake of trash accumulating during the event.
“Some students care, but most are just here to party. To each their own, I guess, but I don’t really have a problem with it,” she said.