BLOG #671: City council’s Public Safety Committee has recommended a revised nuisance bylaw aimed at controlling rowdy student parties like the one on Fleming Drive on St. Patrick’s Day that turned into a riot.
Friday, May 11, 2012
A crowded public meeting at the Convention Centre back on April 2 discussed details of the city’s proposed nuisance bylaw, created in the aftermath of the riotous St. Patrick’s Day party on Fleming Drive described by London’s police chief as “the worst case of civil disobedience our community has ever been subjected to.”
Almost 40 people make presentations, with participants dividing into three groups.
There were the residents on and around Fleming Drive who are fed up with the frequent noisy and bad behaviour of Fanshawe College students and their friends, many of whom live in rooming houses on the street. They want it stopped.
There were students from Fanshawe who were ashamed, or at least dismayed, by the conduct of their colleagues and others that March Saturday night. They didn’t want it to reflect badly on them or their institution.
And there were a few young people, some of whom possibly were at the troubled event that night and thought it was just one helluva party that got out of control. They felt the sweeping descriptions in the proposed bylaw – “any conduct or activity at a social gathering or party that is carried on so as to constitute a public nuisance” – was far too broad.
Thursday afternoon, before the much reduced ranks of city council’s Public Safety Committee, a revised nuisance bylaw was presented and recommended for approval. As Meatloaf used to sing, two outta three ain’t bad.
The bylaw does aim very squarely at rowdy behaviour that now includes disorderly conduct; public drunkenness or public intoxication; the unlawful sale, furnishing or distribution of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances; the deposit of refuse on public or private property; pedestrians or vehicles or illegal parking that obstruct the free flow of traffic; unreasonable noise including loud music; unlawful open burning or fireworks; public disturbances including brawls; outdoor public urination or defecation.
Jim Barber, the city solicitor, says the bylaw could be applied if any one of those bylaw infractions was observed, but normally it would take a couple at least.
That will make residents of and around Fleming Drive happier because it will now be easier for police to step in and stop trouble before it gets out of hand. And a further section, which would allow the city to apply for a court order against anyone convicted certainly rachets the consequences.
Potential party-goers will be satisfied that the vague description that suggested almost any conduct could be deemed a public nuisance is gone, as is the prohibition against talking, singing or shouting, quarrels and threats. Now it’s pretty clear when fun ends and bad-ass behaviour begins.
Fanshawe students, however, won’t be so pleased. The stigma created by the adjacency of Fleming to Fanshawe and the fact many of those subsequently charged were students won’t go away any time soon. The reclamation of the college’s reputation will await, in the short term, student behaviour during the coming school year, and in the longer term whatever decisions the Fanshawe administration takes to separate gown from town.
In his comments on the new bylaw Mayor Joe Fontana put it pretty squarely on the students.
“There is no doubt had Fleming Drive not occurred perhaps we would not have had to consider such a bylaw,” he said Thursday. “Having had that experience, it is incumbent on us to do something. We were fortunate not to have had a loss of life. People were injured, property was damaged; it cost police a lot of money. This was a pretty severe situation and we can't allow it to happen again. Not taking this action would be equally problematic for us. We need to have this in place to make sure our people have the tools to deal with it.”
And now they will have, said Chief Brad Duncan. Noting his force dealt with 5,000 noise complaints last year – 15 per cent of which emanated from Fleming Drive – only one escalated into riot territory.
“I anticipate, I hope that it would be rare for this bylaw to be enacted but it would give us the means to remove people if necessary,” he said. “In (the Fleming Drive) case it was the build up of the incident over many hours. We didn't have any authority to intervene.”
Now they do.
This doesn’t necessarily make London a less gentle community, although it certainly draws the line more clearly as to where and when youthful exuberance becomes unlawful behaviour. That we needed the line probably says more about the thoughtless oafs of Fleming Drive than it does about London.
Still, it’s sad.