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Hundreds gather at UVic for unruly parties, fireworks shot at crowd

TV sets, pumpkins, bottles thrown from buildings, witness says

A University of Victoria student says large drunken gatherings over the Halloween weekend are “a recipe for disaster” and UVic has to put a stop to it.

The student sent videos taken late Saturday from a room on the upper floors at UVic residences near Parking Lot 1 to media outlets, hoping “to shame UVic into doing something.”

The videos show hundreds of people gathered in a square outside residences chanting and yelling, and openly drinking as fireworks are set off. Someone then shoots fireworks into the crowd, where they explode as the partygoers scream.

The student, who did not want to be identified, fearing reprisals from the university and the people in the videos, said the gatherings and fireworks happened Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and lasted until 4 a.m.

Pumpkins and bottles were thrown from rooftops of the residences and several fights broke out, said the student, adding there was blood on the sidewalks Monday morning from broken glass and fights.

The student witnessed someone drive a vehicle into the same square area in the early hours of Oct. 3, narrowly missing six women seated on the grass. And the student has also watched people throw televisions and other items into the gathering area.

“I’m waiting for someone to die … is that when they’re going to put an end to this?” said the student, adding the outdoor parties have been happening since the start of the school year, almost every weekend.

Saanich Police Const. Markus Anastasiades confirmed there were mass gatherings of up to 1,000 people in the area Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and extra officers were dispatched on each of the three nights. Several tickets were issued for open liquor and minor injuries were noted, and at least one assault is being investigated, he said.

Paramedics were also called to check injuries. No officers were injured.

“People are so intoxicated, they weren’t able to care for themselves,” said Anastasiades. “People were firing fireworks into the crowds.”

Anastasiades said calls to UVic residences this year are unprecedented as hundreds gather for weekend parties.

“Enforcement up there, what we’re seeing, we haven’t seen before,” he said. “Some of them are students. Some are not. The university is being seen as a gathering ground for young people.”

Anastasiades said with Halloween falling on a Sunday, the partying continued through the weekend.

Karen Johnston, associate director of public affairs at UVic, said in a statement that many of the people who gathered on campus over the weekend were not UVic students.

The statement said mass parties in and around residence-complex buildings are not permitted for any reason, and any reported violations of that policy by UVic students from the past weekend will be followed up through “established conduct processes.”

Johnston said students were reminded prior to Halloween of the no-guest policy in residences and UVic’s policy of no open alcohol containers or consumption in public areas of the campus. Non-students and students not living in residence are not allowed inside or around living areas, including parking lots and grounds around the buildings.

Johnston said large unsanctioned gatherings on campus may increase the risk of COVID-19 spread and jeopardize the safety of the campus community and first responders.

The capital region was awash in fireworks and other explosives through the weekend and Halloween night, with complaints lodged to police from Sidney to the West Shore.

Anastasiades said police have a difficult time catching offenders. “By the time we get there , they are usually gone,” he said.

Fireworks are illegal to sell in all jurisdictions in the region, and firecrackers and other hand-held lit explosives are banned. Municipalities such as Saanich and Langford require special permits to light them on Halloween and only between certain hours.

But police said fireworks are easy to obtain online and through pop-up sellers outside their jurisdictions.

Far Out Fireworks, based in Coombs, claims to have the Island’s largest selection of fireworks and offers 24/7 online ordering, curbside pickup and two- or three-day shipping.

Calls to the business were not returned on Monday.

In Oak Bay, police were sent to break up a gathering of between 150 and 200 youth drinking and using fireworks on the Victoria Golf Club and Anderson Hill. That prompted a tweet by Oak Bay Police Chief Ray Bernoties on Monday, saying “we were all young once … but if your kid was one of the many who was partying on the grounds of Victoria Golf Course and/or Anderson Hill last night, they should return today to clean up the mess that was left behind.”

dkloster@timescolonist.com