Mayor: Broughdale response ‘cause for optimism’

Officials are crediting early and frequent collaboration across the city as a “cause for optimism” related to managing the annual unsanctioned street party on Broughdale Avenue.

“There was clearly better planning, better co-ordination than in years past. That we can say with absolute certainty,” said Ed Holder, City of London Mayor, who took the lead at a joint press conference with city, first responders and university officials Monday.

All parties cited early planning, stronger by-law enforcement, and alternative programming by the university and its students – namely the “massive efforts” behind Purple Fest – for creating a safer environment. Emergency services personnel reported fewer people on rooftops, fewer hospital visits, no serious injuries and fewer charges laid on Broughdale Saturday.

Police estimates placed attendance on the city street at 25,000 at its peak by midafternoon. Despite that number being up from last year, city officials said attendees were “generally well-behaved and responsive to direction from first responders on site.”

On Saturday, police were also challenged by a number of house parties on streets around Broughdale, spreading the on-duty officers across a larger area. In a departure from last year, a strip of Richmond Street near The University Gates was closed around 12 p.m. as a safety precaution.

“Unsanctioned gatherings are not unique to London, but I do believe we are a model for first responders that might be of great interest to other communities,” said Stephen Williams, London Police Chief. “Obviously, we have not solved this issue. We were very fortunate this year nobody was seriously injured.”

According to Williams, no charges issued “reached the threshold” allowing for the sharing of student names under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Western and the London Police Services Board. That MOU applies to “limited and serious cases of alleged illegal behavior by Western students at these large unsanctioned events.”

Multiple officials stressed these street parties are “not unique to London” with similar massive unsanctioned street parties popping in university towns across Canada and the United States.

“This seems to be a phenomena that has certainly captured a number of communities across this province – and beyond,” Holder said. “We will deal with it as long as we need to deal with it – as long as it takes. Am I concerned that the size of the crowd has grown? Absolutely. Do I think the co-ordination we put together has mattered? Yes. I think you heard that.

“But we have to pay attention going forward. Paramount is the safety of our residents, including our students. We will do whatever it takes.”

Holder admitted setting a bar for success for unsanctioned street parties like Broughdale is difficult. But there are some baselines that always need to be tended to.

“Is it better we had fewer incidents of physical injury? Absolutely. Is it better we had fewer charges? Absolutely. There is nothing wrong with using those as a measurement. Because in the absence of measurements, anything goes,” he said.

“At the same time, our obligation as a community is to be vigilant on the issues that matter. What matters? When crowd sizes increase. That matters. When people act unruly. That matters. It is why council supported increases in fines for public nuisances to deal with that. It is why the MOU was established to be able to insure there were academic implication involved.”

Holder continued, “Do we wish we didn’t have to deal with this at all? Of course. That is naive, though. So, you look at what you can do.”

Earlier this year, Holder formed a task force to deal with the issue, bringing to the table the City of London, Western, University Students’ Council, London Police Service, Middlesex-London Paramedic Service, and London Fire Department.

The mayor said that group will assemble in the next few weeks to discuss the efforts this year.

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For many in the community and media, Broughdale has become a game of numbers. This year, those numbers include:

  • 25,000. Attendees on Broughdale and surrounding area at the event’s peak by mid-afternoon;
  • 13,000. Attendees at PurpleFest, with 70 per cent being Western students;
  • 809. 911 calls on Saturday.
  • 592. Warnings issued under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act related to overcrowding and people on roofs;
  • 82. Potential patients evaluated by Middlesex-London Paramedic Services on and around Broughdale with only 31 transported to hospital, with no serious injuries;
  • 14. Provincial offence arrests, mainly public intoxication, with 62 tickets and 2,070 warnings issued;
  • 10. Public nuisance charges, mainly public urination.
  • 2. Charges under Ontario Fire Code;
  • 1. Littering charge on Broughdale.
  • 0. Criminal code charges laid; and
  • 0. Charges or arrests at PurpleFest.