“This year was the biggest escalation I think anyone has seen,” said Susan Khazaeli, director of Action Sandy Hill. Photos: Tammy Miller-Sheehan/Provided
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Several charges have been laid in relation to party, attended by about 2,000 students

Many members of the Sandy Hill community are calling for an end to homecoming street parties in the neighbourhood following an Oct. 2 celebration which led to several incidents of criminal behaviour

Approximately 2,000 students gathered on Russell Avenue between Templeton and Somerset streets to celebrate the Gee-Gees win over Carleton University in the annual Panda Game. The street party is an annual event, although residents of Sandy Hill have long disapproved of it.

“I would say that most of the residents that write to Action Sandy Hill have deep fear and reservations annually in the lead up to the Panda Game, and they expect the worst because that’s what history has shown them. They tend to go out of control. Of course, this year was the biggest escalation I think anyone has seen,” said Susan Khazaeli, director of Action Sandy Hill (ASH), a community association designed to represent the interests of the neighbourhood and its residents. 

This year, the event culminated in several incidents of criminal behaviour, including the well-documented destruction of a vehicle parked on Russell Avenue and the assault of its owner. It was not what first-year economics student Greg Coleman was expecting when he set out to participate in the student ritual.

“I expected it to be what usually happens outside of Tabaret or 90U every weekend: people drinking, smoking, being a little loud, and exchanging socials,” he wrote in an email to the Fulcrum. “What I actually found on Russell Ave was closer to a small riot.”

When Coleman arrived at Russell Avenue around 9 p.m., there was already a perimeter of police officers telling newcomers to turn around and go home. He could see a group of students standing on top of the damaged vehicle. 

“Up and down the street there were broken bottles, and there was a lot of trash in people’s front yards [and] on apartment stairs. I did see one student hit a cop but they were quickly taken away,” wrote Coleman. 

Khazaeli added that residents had written into ASH to say students attending the party had thrown branches and cans at homeowners who emerged from their homes to tell attendees to vacate their property. 

A large cleanup was undertaken by ASH, the U of O’s varsity athletics, and the City of Ottawa the following day. This cleanup is also an annual event. 

Khazaeli says residents in the community have had enough. 

“The vast majority of people in the community [who] have written into ASH on the future of the Panda Game support the permanent cancellation of Panda. A minority of people think that perhaps there could be a way to maintain the Panda Game, but certainly, they do not want to see these illegal street parties. There’s no permit, they’re not sanctioned in any way to ever happen in residential areas,” she said.

Although ASH has not yet consulted with the University, Khazaeli said residents hope future homecoming celebrations might be held on campus.

On Oct. 3, U of O president and chancellor Jacques Frémont released a joint statement with provost and vice president, academic affairs Jill Scott assuring partners that parties like this one are not characteristic of the university and imploring students to “do better.” 

“We profoundly regret the damage that was done, as well as the fear and anxiety that these events caused you last night. Sandy Hill is our home, and you — its residents — are our valued neighbours. The actions of those who have so disrespected our community are deeply distressing to us, as they are to our community as a whole,” reads the statement, which stops short of issuing any apologies. 

Ottawa Police Service (OPS) “has identified all 10 individuals (shown in photos released on October 4th) and laid charges against three persons involved in acts of mischief in Sandy Hill last Saturday evening.”

OPS has released an additional 18 images of individuals they are hoping to identify. 

Khazaeli said she hopes all students who attended the party — not just those who participated in the criminal incidents — will hold themselves accountable. “They should all have to think long and hard about the ways in which they’ve created a permissive environment,” she said.

Coleman says he is “disappointed but not surprised” at the way the party evolved. He does hope to attend another, more measured celebration in the future, but remains cynical about the future of the event. 

“As for the street ‘party,’ ” wrote Coleman, “if I live in Sandy Hill, especially on Russell or Chapel — where many of my friends do — it doesn’t look like I’ll have a choice.”

A GoFundMe has been set up to support the owner of the destroyed car, who was assaulted by the individuals responsible for the damage. To donate, click here.