Halifax police ask Dalhousie University to play stronger role after violent gathering

HALIFAX — Dalhousie University should have a "stronger role to play" in controlling unsanctioned events like the massive street party that turned violent Saturday, the chief of Halifax police says in a letter to the school’s president.

In an Oct. 3 letter obtained by The Canadian Press, Chief Dan Kinsella tells university president Deep Saini that the annual off-campus gathering "declined to a new low" when up to 4,000 people gathered in the area around Larch, Preston and Jennings streets.

"This event is associated with Dalhousie University, whether it takes place on campus or on adjacent streets, so we believe that Dalhousie has a stronger role to play,” Kinsella wrote.

Police say fireworks were ignited in the crowd, a number of fights were reported, and several injured people were escorted out of the area, including a man who had been stabbed.

Several people were arrested and dozens of summary offence tickets were handed out, police confirmed.

Kinsella's letter urges Saini to consider three specific steps to deal with large gatherings that could disrupt residential neighbourhoods near the school.

He said Dalhousie should either provide an appropriate space on campus or rent one off-site. As well, the chief said the school should strengthen internal warnings to students and consider hiring extra police to conduct patrols.

"The issues related to immediate public safety hazards and threats to the city, neighborhood and first responders arising from these unsanctioned events merit dedicated attention on its own,” Kinsella wrote.

In response to Kinsella's letter, Saini wrote a letter of his own Monday, saying he shared the chief's concerns about the risks associated with "illegal gatherings."

"I was frustrated and appalled to read about the treatment of your officers and the escalation of activities on the night of Oct. 1," the university president wrote.

"I agree that this requires a multi-partner response and would welcome the opportunity to continue our dialogue on immediate-, medium- and long-term initiatives to mitigate the risks of large, alcohol-fueled, social media-driven illegal gatherings."

Saini said his office would follow up with Kinsella to "find a time for us to connect to continue this discussion in earnest."

Meanwhile, the association that represents Halifax regional police officers confirmed that several of its members were injured when they tried to gain control of the crowd. As well, officers had to be called in from neighbouring districts to assist as the evening progressed, the association said.

"The Halifax Regional Police Association is calling on Halifax Regional Police management, the (Halifax Region) City Council and Dalhousie University to address the ever-growing problem of homecoming," union president Dean Stienburg said in a statement. "This event continues to grow and has become a significant police and public safety issue.”

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Halifax Regional Police said the weekend event caused "significant safety hazards … while putting a huge strain on our resources."

Const. Nicolas Gagnon said the police force "will continue to have conversations directly with Dalhousie leadership, affected community members and others as necessary."

A similar disturbance at the same event last year saw police arrest nine men and one woman for public intoxication and drew outrage from the university and local community.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press