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Nudity, drunkenness, menacing behaviour and public urination are all part of living near the Dalhousie University campus, neighbours say.
Though obnoxious behaviour by students dates back at least 30 years, say residents, this year is worse than usual because of COVID-19.
“Ontarian students are back for no apparent reason, because all the universities are online. And they have nothing to do but stay in their apartments, and the partying has gotten far worse,” said John Weagle, who lives on Edward Street.
Weagle said “slum landlords” buy up family houses and jam as many people into them as possible, causing the “disintegration” of neighbourhoods. The house next to Weagle has 15 students living on three floors.
A woman who lives in the area recently sent an especially disturbing email to Dr. George Kovacs, a Dalhousie professor and director of the med school’s clinical cadaver program, who is also the head of the local Neighbourhood Watch.
She wrote that for the first time in the decades she has been living in the neighbourhood, she felt unsafe after she asked some students to keep it down and they acted in a menacing way toward her.
“Several approached me closely, standing a foot away and reiterated their right to party and to gather in groups up to 50 (none wearing masks),” she said in the email, also relating some of things the students said to her, which are far too vulgar to be repeated in this space.
“They are destroying our neighbourhood and making it a dangerous place to be and live, and Dal does nothing,” she added.
A problem for 30 years
Weagle said it was a mistake for the woman to confront the students, but isn’t surprised by her account.
“This has been an ongoing problem for 30 years, Dal just sticks their head in the sand and doesn’t pay any attention. They say they’re connecting with the community, but basically what they do is send a student around to poke a flyer in everybody’s doorway…listing the noise regulations and what’s considered proper behaviour. But they don’t follow up,” he said. “The Ontarian students seem to be the worst of them all...It seems to generally be Ontarian students that want to get away from home and Halifax is the party city.”
Weagle said he hasn’t personally felt threatened recently, but he’s worried about the cavalier disregard that some students seem to have when it comes to rules of COVID.
“They’re not following self-isolation,” he said. “I see a house near me where five girls arrived about three to five days apart. So, every time a new one goes in that house it’s another two weeks for everybody in that house. And they don’t do that. A couple of good-looking guys go walking down the street, they start talking to them, the guys are in the house.”
The neighbourhood has changed a lot
Suze Funnell, who lives on Coburg Road, said the problem has been out of hand for years and police response is sporadic. She and her husband love living in the university neighbourhood, but feel it’s changed a lot.
“It used to be at the beginning of the term you’d have a little noise, but (now) it’s pretty well year-round and it’s anywhere from 9 p.m. to four in the morning, and it can be quite persistent. Lots of yelling and screaming, banging on things, you don’t know what’s being banged on out in the street. And there’s a violent edge to these sounds,” she said. “The neighbours are peering out their window shades, feeling like they’re living in these fragile fortresses.
“What perplexes everybody is why they came back to Halifax, when they can do their courses from anywhere. We surmise that it’s because they miss their friends and they want to play.”
Funnell has attended community meetings held by the university, and said Dal recently sent a notice to students, reminding them about social distancing and respect.
“It said even if you’re off-campus you should be respectful of your neighbours, but it never has any effect,” said Funnell, who long ago came to accept start of term partying as a rite of passage. “But it’s become very aggressive over the years, with a dangerous edge. And what’s different is you can’t risk having a friendly visit with these kids and asking them if they could quiet down. You will have your house vandalized. There’s repercussions.”
John Weagle said even in situations where the university should be able to easily identify serial offenders, it doesn’t do anything.
“One year about seven or eight years ago, we had a bunch of hockey players that were going to Dal, from Ontario,” he said. “Daddy bought the house for the kids, which is the thing that happens these days. They’d come out of the house, they’d urinate off the front porch when people were walking by, drunk all the time, serving beer on the front doorstep.
“They got fined, I think, three times because cops caught them. Running naked up the street, absolutely crazy. The police just happened to be coming up the street, and that guy got a big fine.”