A nuisance party bylaw is a step closer to becoming a reality in Hamilton after councillors in a planning committee meeting Tuesday voted to move on with suggestions made in a staff report.
Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson has led the way for the initiative over the past year, largely in response to an unsanctioned McMaster University homecoming gathering last fall and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration – both in the Dalewood and Westwood areas in 2021.
Safety and cost recovery were primary issues brought forth by bylaw services amid reports of excessive alcohol consumption, high levels of noise, and blockages of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The proposed nuisance party bylaw will give additional enforcement tools to municipal and police officers dealing with unsanctioned gatherings, allowing them to disperse nuisance parties and minimize the negative behaviours associated with them.
City staff say the “fake homecoming” street party in October resulted in significant property damage as well as an accumulation of waste costing the city $1,731.37 in street cleaning.
Additionally, Hamilton paramedics said they incurred costs in the neighbourhood of $19,600 for labour and response during the Oct. 2 occurrence.
Municipal services say proactive measures for the unsanctioned St. Patrick’s Day gathering on March 19 cost a combined $243,944.
“I am absolutely astounded that one unsanctioned nuisance party like this could cost city of Hamilton taxpayers $243,000 in costs,” Hamilton West/Central Mountain Coun. John-Paul Danko said during Tuesday’s committee meeting.
“I’m also really surprised that the institutions responsible don’t share in any of that cost.”
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Senior project manager for licensing and bylaw services Ben Spycha told councillors the new bylaw outlines 11 “nuisance characteristics” that make up the threshold to define an unsanctioned party, including disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and the deposit of refuse on public or private property.
“A nuisance party is declared by the chief of police or their designee,” Spycha said.
“The declaration can only be made when the threshold of four characteristics of a nuisance party (are met) as outlined in the definitions of the bylaw,” said Spycha.
Suggested fines in the Hamilton staff report are similar to recent nuisance bylaw law initiatives undertaken by other Ontario municipalities that have seen similar disruptive gatherings, according to Spycha.
The proposed punishments include provincial offence notices and administrative (POA) penalties ranging from upwards of $300 to $500 for hosting, attending, permitting, defacing signs and failure to leave.
“If the nuisance party bylaw is adopted, amendments to the administrative penalties bylaw will be sought with these suggested fines as administrative penalties are intended not to be punitive, these fines are lower than their POA counterparts,” Spycha said.
The package is also suggesting a “university district safety initiative” establishing “zero tolerance” enforcement areas prior to a potential unsanctioned event, with the overall goal of minimizing negative behaviours associated with parties and deterring public nuisances.
Spycha said an example of preparation would be a possible homecoming gathering in which areas around the university district, Westdale and Dalewood, could be marked off as zero-tolerance zones prior to an event.
“Officers would take a zero-tolerance approach to enforcement, which would see charges being issued to those who contravene the proposed bylaw rather than the traditional approach of progressive enforcement that we usually undertake,” Spycha explained.
However, the bylaw cannot declare a nuisance party prior to notice of an anticipated unsanctioned event.
Wilson told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today that the bylaw will not be a silver bullet for the problem, but a “tool” in discouraging large unsanctioned gatherings.
“I’ve always said to students who move into Ward 1 …, as long as they’re living here, they’re residents,” said Wilson.
“With their rights as a resident also comes responsibilities, and so you don’t treat Ward 1 as your litter box or your frat house.”
The nuisance party bylaw will now need approval from the public safety working group before being brought to city council for final approval on Sept. 14.