Ezra Street Party rages on drawing biggest crowd yet

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Wilfrid Laurier University’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party drew crowds of thousands today in spite of increased preventative measures taken by Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS).

“It’s been a year of planning with a whole bunch of stakeholders from our perspective,” Mike Haffner of Waterloo Regional Police told The Cord.

This planning included collaboration with various emergency services in Waterloo, both the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University and their respective student unions, as well as officers from Peel Regional Police Service. The planning aimed to “mitigate the possible risks that can come along with unsanctioned events.”

“It was to a point where it was beyond capacity for our organization and we had to reach out to Peel Regional Police Service, and we applaud and appreciate them for coming down to assist … from a crowd management perspective,” Haffner said.

With respect to the total number of people in attendance, an accurate estimate is not currently available, but the number was said by Haffner to be a “significant increase over last year’s [celebration],” which peaked at around 15,000.

“Last year we had 15,000 people [estimated] that attended; we see that this year might be a little bit more at this point, but final numbers will be coming in a proper calculation later on,” Haffner said.

This increased turnout led to a more strategic approach from WRPS, who at one point opted to block off Ezra Ave. with dump trucks at Ezra and Albert as well as Ezra and King. The street was blocked off in order to protect the safety of those in attendance.

The amount of stress that the gathering puts on local resources is apparent, with the party diverting much of the city’s emergency services towards Ezra Ave.

“This is a significant drain on our resources from a police perspective,” Haffner said. “We [still] have to provide police services to the rest of the region.”

On top of the party situated on Ezra Ave., police were tasked with monitoring and controlling “about 30 significant gatherings” on streets in the surrounding area, with some totalling upwards of 300 people.

“We have a number of liquor license act charges, a number of keg parties that we have intercepted, stopped, seized,” Haffner said.

“But not only that,” he added, “from a traffic services perspective [as well].”

The lead up to today’s festivities saw local authorities partner with Ontario Provincial Police officers, who intercepted numerous vehicles on their way to Waterloo.

“We are aware that we have had a number of attendees coming from outside our jurisdiction, outside the City of Waterloo,” Haffner said.

“This morning we intercepted a bus from Scarborough, a vehicle from Guelph — all with open liquor, a lot of drugs — all coming to the St. Patrick’s Day party, which is something we want to avoid,” Haffner said.

“Even last night, we stopped a vehicle going 50 kilometers over the speed limit, all with luggage and pillows to come here and party,” he added.

Haffner said that the police want people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to have a good time, but they also want them to be mindful of their surroundings, their actions and the consequences they may bring.

“We want people to have fun; at no point, from a police perspective, was this an adversarial event,” Haffner said. “We understand people want to have fun, but they need to be respectful and, more importantly, they need to be aware of the infractions that come with that.”

Ultimately, Haffner recommended that those seeking a good time should look more towards licensed establishments or private residences, as opposed to convening on Ezra Ave.

“We want people to take the proper action to go to a licensed establishment [or] have a private party in your private residence,” Haffner said.

“But more importantly be smart, stay safe, be respectful to those in attendance and to yourself.”

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