A Halifax councillor wants to see more tickets handed out under the Health Protection Act following a large party near the Dalhousie University campus last weekend.
Halifax Regional Police say they received a noise complaint at around 11 p.m. Friday. When officers arrived on Edward Street they found more than 60 people at a house party.
At the time, the maximum limit for gatherings without physical distancing was ten people. That number has since been reduced to five here in HRM.
However, even though dozens were at the party, only one summary offence ticket was issued under the Health Protection Act, which comes with a $1,000 fine.
"These students have put the entire community at risk and I wish they'd all have been ticketed," said Waye Mason, the councillor for Halifax's south end.
"I think that if the students had all been ticketed, and that is a big effort for the police, that would have gone around on social media pretty quickly and it would have had a real dampening effect on parties."
Over 80 new cases of COVID-19 have been announced in November so far. The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, has said young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 are currently driving the spike in new cases, with social events largely responsible for the transmission of the virus.
At a briefing late last week, he said it's still early enough to change our trajectory, but it will require all of us to make sacrifices, especially over the next two to four weeks.
Peggy Walt lives in the residential neighbourhood where the party took place.
"I spoke to two of these students the next day. They were completely, 100 per cent unapologetic about their behaviour," she told NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show. "They told me it's not my problem, it's none of my business."
"We have got to get serious, this is a pandemic we're in for goodness' sake," she added. "I appreciate it's tough for these students, it's not the university lifestyle they signed up for but ... we're in a war against the virus, and you're a part of that war so you have to do your part."
Walt would like to see Dalhousie step up and start taking action, including educating off-campus students about responsible behaviour, and if necessary, start handing out suspensions.
She says she's called the president's office at the university three times. She's also emailed and tweeted them. As of Tuesday morning, she hasn't yet received a response.
"There's complete silence, it's deafening," she said. "They've taken zero responsibility, they do not want to engage with the neighbours."
Mason said he isn't sure the school can legally suspend or expel students for parties held off-campus, but he does feel Dal should be doing more to prevent these get-togethers.
"I hope Dalhousie comes back to the table," the councillor said. "They're a big part of this community and their current stance of not engaging in anything to do with students and student life off their campus is disappointing."
He said in previous years, the university has helped to pay for off-duty police officers, who would patrol trouble spots near the campus and educate students on issues like noise and alcohol consumption, but that wasn't funded this year.
"That's a real misstep on their part and I'm urging them to bring that back next year," Mason stated.
He said Dalhousie likely didn't think the program was necessary this year, banking on most students staying home because classes were being held online.
"Unfortunately that's not the case. We have thousands of students who have come here ... they're not going to class and they're home all the time," he explained. "That means potentially, even though we have fewer students, we have more partying per student household than we've had in the past."
Many restaurants and bars have decided to temporarily close to in-person dining in the city, but Mason fears that could result in more house parties popping up, unless we start seeing stricter enforcement of the gathering limits.
"Having a 62 person party, when the very next day Dalhousie announced that two of their students actually had tested positive for COVID is terrifying," he said. "And could result in people dying."
In an emailed statement, Dalhousie's associate director of media relations, Janet Bryson says the university expects its students to do their part to keep the community safe by following public health guidelines.
"That includes proper physical distancing, wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, and avoiding large gatherings," Bryson said. "The vast majority of our students in Halifax are being extremely respectful of the public health situation, and it is very disheartening when people choose to disregard regulations, knowing they are in the wrong."
She added Dalhouse recognizes its students as independent adults and fully supports any enforcement by police to deter unsafe and disrespectful student behaviour.