Police say they've learned from last year's Panda Game and are hopeful the changes they've made will prevent Saturday's parties from being a repeat of last year's chaos, but student and community groups say there's still more that could be done.
Ottawa police say they will have "zero tolerance" for disruptive parties surrounding the annual football game between Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.
Last year, the festivities were calm during the day while a large number of police circulated in Sandy Hill, but officers had to be redeployed around 8 p.m. when Russell Avenue was overrun by partygoers. This prompted Ottawa Police to review their response.
Officers will be sticking around longer than in the previous year, "in reaction to the feedback that we've received from the community," Const. Sébastien Lemay told CBC.
There will also more police — the force cautioned that a heavy police and bylaw presence should be expected in the ByWard Market, Sandy Hill and Old Ottawa South.
They're also upping the fine for violating the noise bylaw — those who do could be fined $1,000, according to bylaw officer Alison Sandor.
"We never want to give this type of fines to students," she said, but bylaw is hoping the high fine will act as a deterrent.
Community group 'cautiously optimistic'
Louise Lapointe, chair of the Action Sandy Hill community group, says hearing about the increased police presence was reassuring and has made her "cautiously optimistic" about the weekend festivities.
But, she says, police are only part of the equation.
University-sanctioned party venues, such as the University of Ottawa's official pre-panda tailgate event, go a long way toward keeping parties off residential streets.
"My theory is that that's a little bit of what went wrong last year," Lapointe said.
She said the spill over into residential streets could be mitigated if universities organized more sanctioned events to allow revellers to safely party — especially after the game ends.
Armaan Singh, president of the University of Ottawa students' union, said he also wants to see more dedicated spaces for Panda Game parties.
He suggested the university partner with local venues to host events — it would help keep students off the streets after the game and brings dollars into downtown businesses.
Singh says he also think this year's messaging from the university around respect and safe drinking will help keep parties from becoming a problem.
Police aren't the answer, student union says
While Singh said that the chaos following last year's Panda Game was "completely unacceptable," he said that increased police presence could do more harm than good.
"Steps like these are actually more productive and are more effective [than police] at quelling any of the unrest that can happen in the Sandy Hill streets," Singh said.
"Having police intervene actually escalates a lot of these situations and makes racialized students, especially, feel very unsafe."
Singh said also many students are questioning why police are taking such a strong stance on student parties and wonder where that energy was during the last winter's Freedom Convoy protests.
"The occupation really upset our community, really distressed our community and disrupted daily lives for students and other community members," said Singh. "And, you know, police action was very limited."
When asked about the contrast between police responses to the two events, Lemay said police's new "zero tolerance" approach to this year's Panda Game could be used going forward.
"It's likely a model that we're going to continue to see for any such event that we have enough information to plan ahead and again to do that outreach piece and that education part," Lemay said.