I was not within 100 kilometres of Edward Street on Saturday night, but I’ve lived in that Halifax neighbourhood for 27 years, so I know, on some weekend nights, what the drill can be: the pounding music that just doesn’t end; the mob of besotted students, cursing like bosons, throwing their bottles and pizza plates where they see fit; the vague whiff of menace you can feel just going outside to take the dog for a walk at night on your street.
Louis Brill, who has lived on Edward Street for 18 years, knows it too. Like most everybody in this neighbourhood, which is home to people who work and study at Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities and at the University of King’s College, he welcomes the new crop of students who arrive each September.
“The vast majority are good respectable people,” the independent businessman said Monday.
But every year there is a group that crosses the line, as, by all accounts, happened on Saturday night, in a green Victorian house near Brill’s where more than 60 people gathered, less than 36 hours before the new COVID-19 rules, limiting gatherings to five people or less, came into effect.
It should be noted this is not a new story in this neighbourhood. The Chronicle Herald’s Bill Spurr wrote about student debauchery and their cavalier attitude toward COVID-19. I know from personal experience that community frustration with the situation is deep and longstanding.
On Saturday the “disruptive, threatening” behaviour — which included plenty of cursing and altogether too much public urination on neighbour’s lawns — went on for a couple of hours, but eventually became too much.
“Our goal is to keep people safe,” an HRM police department spokesperson told me Monday, when I called to ask about the $1,000 ticket that was issued at the house under the province’s Health Protection Act.
On social media, the roughly $16-per-person price tag of the ticket was widely criticized, particularly since, at the start of the fall university term, four students at Acadia and St. Francis Xavier universities, all from outside the late Atlantic Bubble, were fined $1,000 each for violating the Health Protection Act for failing to self-isolate.
No one felt a lot better on Sunday after Dalhousie reported two of its students had tested positive for COVID-19, even though university spokeswoman Janet Bryson said she knew of no connection between the infected students and the Edward Street bacchanalia.
None of this has done much for the reputation of our 18- to 35-year-olds whom last week drew harsh criticism from Premier Stephen McNeil for failing to diligently do the things necessary to step the coronavirus from spreading.
I’m with the premier there: Stay the blazes home and watch The Queen’s Gambit with the rest of us.
By the same token we need to remember that Halifax in 2020 isn’t decadent Weimar-era Berlin and we need to watch making an entire group of Nova Scotians the scapegoat for the actions of a few.
When I ask young people I know about the throw-caution-to-the wind en masse partying we’re hearing all about they go “Partying? What partying?"
I tend to believe them. Even if I can vaguely remember what being that age is like.
I have sympathy for someone in their 20s being ordered to steer clear of the raucous gatherings that one craves at that age.
I feel downright sorry for a young man or woman, with all the pent-up energy of youth — perhaps feeling the first vestiges of freedom — suddenly told now wait just a minute, cool it, in fact, for the foreseeable future.
The other night, just a few blocks from the aforementioned Edward Street address, a couple of university kids started playing basketball at the school yard court next to our house.
There were no Kawhis out there, so they missed often, the ball making a dull clanging sound every couple of seconds or so.
I am a light sleeper, but knowing that they likely were university students who had to queue up for some time on the elliptical machine at the Dalplex, I let it pass.
At that age, I seem to recall, a person just needs to blow off some steam.
I think of it this way: during the Spanish Flu epidemic many people their age would be just back from the First World War.
The young people of today luckily didn’t have to endure those horrors. Instead, against their nature, they must now do, well, nothing.
That doesn’t, in any way, excuse the kind of behaviour puts us all in danger. It does, in a small way, however, help explain it.