Police closure of Sandy Hill street 'started a problem' at Panda game party: councillor

Ottawa police made a mistake when they closed a Sandy Hill street Saturday night ahead of an out-of-control street party, the local councillor suggested Monday.

The massive party near the University of Ottawa following the annual Panda game between the uOttawa and Carleton University football teams left at least seven people injured, a vehicle flipped and property damaged.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury said police noticed an increase in crowds around 7:30 p.m. on a stretch of Russell Avenue and "a decision was made to close the street."

"From my perspective, that started a problem which enabled sidewalk and street to be taken over by more than 2,000 students," he told CTV News. "Then obviously hooligans took over."

Fleury made the comments shortly after a meeting with Mayor Jim Watson and Police Chief Peter Sloly, which Fleury called a 'fulsome conversation.' Questions remain about why there was such a small police presence at the hours-long party as it got out of hand. Fleury said police need to provide some clarity.

Police said Monday afternoon they are reviewing photos and videos from the scene, gathered through surveillance video and social media hoping to identify people who engaged in criminal behaviour at the party.

They have set up a website, ottawapolice.ca/pandagame, for the photos. They say more images are expected to be released this week.

However, police have not released more details about the deployment of officers on Saturday night. Several witnesses said there appeared to be a minimal police presence as the party got out of hand.

Watson told CTV News that police pulled back their resources in Sandy Hill around 9 p.m., before much of the revelry began.

"My understanding is there was no serious activity taking place at 9, police started to move out some of their reinforcements, and unfortunately that's when social media lit up and people said come to Russell Avenue and obviously thousands showed up."

Ottawa police say more than 2,000 people descended on Russell Avenue late Saturday night, with some flipping a vehicle and leaving a trail of garbage and debris along the residential street.

Watson called on police to look at evidence on social media to "find out who the ringleaders are and charge them if necessary."

"I was both disgusted and disturbed. It was an act of complete irresponsibility," he said. "This is not the kind of behaviour that we need at any time, particularly during a worldwide pandemic."

Paramedics transported seven people to hospital to be treated for minor injuries and alcohol intoxication late Saturday night.

In a statement on Sunday, police said officers were investigating "several incidents of criminal behaviour" after a large crowd gathered on Russell Avenue.  Police are reviewing social media and video to identify possible suspects.

"In some cases, the crowds became very disruptive. In one incident, a car was overturned and a person was assaulted," said police. "Police are reviewing evidence and will be laying any applicable charges under the Reopening of Ontario Act, Liquor Licence Act, City By-laws as well as any criminal charges under the Criminal Code of Canada."

Some neighbours told CTV News on Sunday that police waited for three hours as the crowd gathered on the street before moving in to disperse it.

"The problems occurred after 9 o'clock, and my understanding is that there was no serious activity taking place at 9, the police started to move out some of their reinforcements and then unfortunately I think that's when social media lit up and people saying, 'Come on to Russell Avenue," said Watson.

"Obviously, thousands showed up. The lesson's learned, and I know the chief will do a review of this."

The University of Ottawa is covering the $200,000 cost of police enforcement before and after the Panda game.

Fleury called for charges and fines to be lieved against the organizers and those who participated in the vandalism and violence.

In a statement on Sunday, the University of Ottawa said it was "immensely disappointed" to learn some students celebrated irresponsibly in Sandy Hill.

"Out of control street parties should never be a feature of life at uOttawa," said President Jacques Fremont on Twitter. "This is a hard lesson for all of us, and we must learn from these events. We will work closely with our partners Ottawa Police, City of Ottawa, student leaders @seuo_uosu @ASH_ACS to see they do not reoccur."

Watson said the city would speak with Fremont to discuss this weekend's events, and look at how to avoid similar incidents in the future.