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Police ready for annual fall booze-up at Queens Add to ...

The horses are on standby, the riot squads are coming and there are plans to use the hallways of police headquarters as holding pens.

As police prepare to keep order on the leafy streets of Kingston this weekend, the city's mayor has a message for those contemplating a pilgrimage to the annual outdoor booze-up - stay away.

This fall, Queen's University will not be holding its popular homecoming weekend, but the problems associated with the impromptu street party long linked to the reunion have not gone away.

After last year's homecoming, Queen's cancelled the long-cherished tradition for at least two years in an effort to stop what many feared was a disaster waiting to happen.

The annual reunion had become a magnet for thousands to the city, drawn by the promise of a raucous party, the reputation of which had gone viral thanks to video clips and postings on the Internet.

This weekend is the date originally set for homecoming, and there are plenty of signs that with or without the university's blessing, several events are in the works. Groups of alumni are holding informal reunions, "non-homecoming" parties are being planned and a Facebook homecoming group with the motto "Let's go anyway" has more than 5,500 members.

City leaders - intent on putting an end to the street-party portion of the weekend - are hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst.

"It's a dangerous formula for trouble here," Kingston Mayor Harvey Rosen said.

"In terms of keeping order, there will be things done I imagine that are not going to be very pleasant," he predicted. "I don't want to see batons wielded or tear gas deployed or horses charging crowds. That sort of blunt force is never a good thing for a community, but in the circumstances, there is not much else you can do."

In a break from recent years, the city is changing its strategy for controlling the crowds, which swelled to about 9,000 last year. Aberdeen Street, the centre of the party, will be kept open by police. Gone, too, will be the volunteers who in the past tried to keep a lid on things by handing out water and exchanging beer bottles for plastic cups.

"It's just too dangerous," said student leader Michael Ceci. Earlier this week, Queen's student council sent an e-mail to students to inform them of the change in crowd-control tactics. "The safety net you may have relied on in the past will not be available," it said.

Aside from well-lubricated undergrads, city and university leaders worried in recent years about the increasingly volatile nature of the crowd, and the potential dangers created by the growing presence of young teenage girls and middle-aged men. After a night treating casualties, a local emergency-room doctor warned "loss of life is inevitable."

"It's time to turn the tide on this event," said Stephen Tanner, the city's new police chief. This year, police are hoping to defuse the situation by breaking up crowds before they swell in size, he said. Mounted units will be used for crowd control only if necessary, he said, and makeshift arrangements will be made if large numbers of people are taken into custody.

"This is a non-sanctioned event that has become a destination for some people. Our goal is to make it part of the history books, " Chief Tanner said.

Such talk does not faze recent graduate Jay Colins, who plans to make the drive to Kingston this weekend with two or three friends. Fears of violence and physical danger have been "overblown in the media," he said.

"It's a nice atmosphere and a good way to meet people and make new friends," said Mr. Colins, who, as an undergrad, shared a house with four others and usually had 15 or 20 guests on homecoming weekends.

As in past years, Mr. Colins figures he'll go to Aberdeen Street to see "what is going on," but agrees the sheer amount of people and the two blocks they are crammed in to do not make a good combination. "Some people do stupid things."

Queen's third-year student Andre Iu said he is hoping parties will stay indoors this weekend so that homecoming can be restored. "I'm personally not a fan of them cancelling it because I always have a good time," he said.

Queen's vice-principal Patrick Deane, who in recent years has spent homecoming monitoring the crowds alongside police, says he will not be involved this year, but will keep in touch with campus security. The atmosphere in the neighbourhood around campus has been quiet this September, and he figures that's a good sign for the coming weekend.

"I think everyone appreciates the significance of the problem," he said. "I don't think we had any choice but to follow the course that we have."

With reports from Katie-Marie Gardner

Follow on Twitter: @lizchurchto

 

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