'Enjoy responsibly': Police, universities warn against large gatherings ahead of Homecoming weekend
Students and alumni from Waterloo's post-secondary institutions are asked to avoid large, unsanctioned gatherings this Homecoming weekend.
"Please enjoy responsibly," police Chief Bryan Larkin said a press conference on Friday morning. "We have a vibrant Uptown Waterloo. We want to contribute to small businesses. There are numerous licensed that will certainly welcome you and you'll be able to go in and have fun in a controlled, safe environment."
Larkin said the police service has an operational plan in place and they've already enacted some "unique measures" like fencing to try to limit unsanctioned gatherings this year.
This year, Ezra Avenue is completely closed, as is Bricker Avenue.
"Please do your part as a good citizen," Larkin said.
Ezra Avenue has been fenced off ahead of Homecoming weekend. (Nicole Lampa/CTV News)
Larkin said it's important for people not to gather this weekend to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.
"We want to ensure that we don't overburden our current public health-care system," he said. "The reality is that all public safety agencies are dealing with significant call demand and we want to ensure that we're prepared and ready to respond elsewhere in the region, and not addressing unlawful or unsanctioned events."
Ivan Joseph, vice president of student affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University, said he understands students are excited to be back after months in isolation amid the pandemic.
"Ninety-nine per cent of them want to be in the right, safe community way and they want to be connected to our campus," he said. "They want to go back to restaurants and movies theatres, they want to celebrate in a safe and responsible way."
However, Joseph said there is a small group who "don't care about the rules."
"We have things in place that will make sure that we can hold those sorts of people accountable," he said. "That's not the kind of community we want to build."
According to Joseph, the university doesn't want to punish and shame people as a first step, but students could face suspension or expulsion if they aren't following the rules.
"After you get past that education, there has to be accountability and sanctions, and sometimes those sanctions can escalate all the way to mean you're just not ready to be a member of our community," he said.
Some Waterloo Region university residence have no trespassing signs up for Homecoming weekend. (Nicole Lampa/CTV Kitchener)
There will be several university events this weekend, including a pancake breakfast and a football game limited to 900 fans in the stands.
Joseph said they've increased their special constable service for the weekend as well to help with any enforcement.
Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's medical officer of health, said she wants people to understand that gathering in unsafe ways is risky for the people themselves, along with the community as a whole. She encouraged people to consider smaller outdoor gatherings, or virtual celebrations, for Homecoming weekend.
With files from CTV Kitchener's Nicole Lampa.