Police in London, Ont., are defending their handling of large crowds of students gathering for a homecoming football game after a fine issued to a cheerleader sparked outrage.
Mackenzie (Max) Gow, the 22-year-old captain of the cheerleading squad at the University of Western Ontario, was handed a $140 ticket for causing a disturbance by leading a cheer on Saturday.
Deputy Chief Brent Shea told reporters that officers “were quite surprised” to see cheerleaders performing routines in the middle of a crowded street. At a news conference, he showed police video footage taken shortly after the ticket was issued that showed throngs of people on Broughdale Avenue, a cul-de-sac in the student neighbourhood near the stadium, as well as on residential rooftops.
“This is a public access roadway,” he said.
Facing an uproar over the ticket, Deputy Chief Shea offered to meet with Mr. Gow and his coach, David-Lee Tracey.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 students had gathered on the residential street, posing “considerable implications” for safety in the case of fire or medical emergency, Deputy Chief Shea said. Over a more than two-hour period, officers moved the crowd out of the area and issued 270 tickets, including 212 for liquor violations.
“Although the media focus on homecoming seems to be limited to the issuance of one ticket, the LPS congratulates all who participated in an extremely successful homecoming event that was enjoyed by thousands,” the force said in a statement issued earlier Monday.
Rambunctious behaviour by students in past years has led officials in London to cancel a homecoming parade through city streets, Mr. Tracey said. Even so, he encourages his squad to meet for breakfast before the big game, and to walk through city streets en route to the football stadium.
Several dozen cheerleaders were walking together Saturday before the Western Mustangs took on the Queen’s University Golden Gaels.
The march apparently put the squad on a collision course with “Project LEARN” – the London Police Service’s “liquor enforcement and reduction of noise” strategy. (Police fined 2,000 people, mostly students, under last fall’s incarnation of Project LEARN.)
Around 11 a.m., about 45 cheerleaders paused for a few minutes on Broughdale Avenue and chanted, “Go ‘Stangs Go!” as they tossed a female cheerleader in the air, according to Mr. Tracey.
It was at that point that a constable made his presence known. “A police officer walked over and said ‘Who is in charge here?’ And Max [Gow] says, ‘I guess technically I am,’ ” Mr. Tracey said.
The captain was written up for violating a bylaw. The specific offence: “Cause nuisance in street by conducting a cheerleading performance,” reads the ticket.
The coach of the cheerleaders says the fine is such an outrage that he has urged students to vent on social media.
“It’s kind of a you-got-to-be-kidding-me story,” Mr. Tracey said in an interview. “… This would not happen in America, would it?”
In any event, Western has one thing to cheer about – the Mustangs trounced the Golden Gaels 50-31 Saturday.