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Ezra Avenue draws nearly 15,000 St. Patrick's Day partiers

Last Updated Mar 20, 2017 at 2:57 pm EDT

Thousands of students gathered on Ezra Avenue March 17, 2017 for a giant St. Patrick's Day party. Photo by 570's Leah Johansen.

The numbers are in, and police are estimating that roughly 14,500 students crammed into the small strip on Ezra Avenue on Friday.

Inspector Craig Ambrose with Waterloo Regional Police Service says this is one of the larger St. Patrick’s Day crowds that Waterloo has seen, adding that police had their hands full with several arrests and minor injuries, but no major incidents. What kept them busiest, says Ambrose, was issuing open alcohol fines.

“The approach that we’ve got is firm, but fair. Certainly, if there’s an offense in front of us and you can deal with it, you deal with it,” says Ambrose. “But once the numbers start to get big, and the crowd gets that thick, certainly there are offenses going on that we just can’t get to.”

Regional police have yet to release their numbers for arrests and tickets issued, but Guelph Police Service say they responded to 23 noise complaints and issued 26 liquor-related tickets.

Guelph Police arrested seven people for public intoxication, two for urinating in a public place, and out of the 750 drivers stopped at a R.I.D.E. check, only two were suspended and one was apprehended for driving offences.

Waterloo Region EMS Union President Ed Besenschek says it was a tough day for emergency crews on Ezra Street.

“It was a typically heavy day of calls coupled with the increase call volume from 15,000 or so students,” says Besenschek. “And despite efforts to mitigate the call volumes with upstaffed crews we were still in periods of code red. We are unable to handle call volume surges.”

With the surge in activity police and EMS face every year on Ezra Avenue, not to mention the cleanup needed by city workers, some people are asking, should the party be allowed to continue?

“People getting together and having a party, that’s kind of enshrined at the federal level, so we have to deal with it. We have to put those resources out there,” says Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky. “We have many benefits of living in a democratic society and that’s all put into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

He adds that most of the students that attend the yearly party are from the local universities and Conestoga College, which help to bring in $1.5 billion in revenue each year.

“We could say ‘we don’t want the students,’ which would mean saying ‘we don’t want the college and universities,’ which would mean saying ‘we don’t want to be a prosperous community,'” says Jaworsky. “Everything has an effect and we can’t do that, so we really have to deal with it, and it’s only one day a year.”