Panda Game scheduled again despite community concerns

A police officer watches crowds and traffic in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood on Oct. 1, 2022, following the annual Panda Game between the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Carleton Ravens. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
A police officer watches crowds and traffic in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood on Oct. 1, 2022, following the annual Panda Game between the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Carleton Ravens. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Ottawa's controversial university football game is set to go ahead Oct. 1 despite safety concerns about the rowdy street parties that followed the last two years.

Last year seven people were arrested, 88 tickets were handed out for open alcohol and 13 tickets were given for noise after the University of Ottawa beat Carleton in the annual Panda Game between the two rivals.

Schools, police and city leaders had hinted that weekend the game could be cancelled if things got out of hand.

"This post-game activity was completely unnecessary and totally unacceptable," then-interim police chief Steve Bell wrote to city leaders. "Sadly, it raises the need for a serious discussion about the future of this university event."

The year before, revellers flipped a car, leading to police vowing to crack down on the problematic partying.

This year's game is is set for a Sunday at TD Place rather than the usual Saturday.

In statements to CBC Ottawa, neither university addressed the concerns around pre- and-post game parties, instead saying the date change was because the Ottawa Redblacks have their own home game that Saturday.

'We have to better prepare'

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante, elected a few weeks after the 2022 Panda Game, said after last fall's "fiasco" she believed both universities were reviewing their options, but neither had spoken to her about those options.

"We are where we are and now we just need to prepare for it," she said, adding she hopes to find ways to mitigate any negative effects.

"We've been through this before. We know what the outcome is going to be and now we have to better prepare."

She suggested the city could reach out to the universities to obtain compensation for affected residents without cancelling the game outright.

"These are classic sporting events that people enjoy. We don't cancel the Stanley Cup just because there were riots in Vancouver one year."

WATCH | What happened in Sandy Hill after the 2021 game:

The president of Action Sandy Hill, the community that includes the University of Ottawa, said she was disappointed but hopes the date change "tempers the spirits" of anyone who may have Monday classes.

"It generates a lot of money, so I'm not surprised at all that it's going to continue," said Louise Lapointe. "Maybe [a Sunday game] will make a difference."

The area's former city councillor isn't so certain since partying often began on the Friday before a Saturday game.

Mathieu Fleury believes, instead, the problem lies with the tie-in to University of Ottawa homecoming and the people who come from out of town for the parties that bookend the game rather than the match itself.

"Simply cancelling the game doesn't solve homecoming," he said.

He said one effort to mitigate the pre-game party was by holding a city-sanctioned tailgate party at the Sandy Hill Arena parking lot.

Rosalie Sinclair/Radio-Canada
Rosalie Sinclair/Radio-Canada

"There's got to be similar organization post-game to diffuse the crowd gathering and you have to have a strong police presence," he said, adding Ottawa police called in additional officers last October which added to the estimated $300,000 to $500,000 policing cost for the weekend.

Fleury suggested revenue from the game, which drew 24,000 people last year, could go toward paying the extra policing costs and helping affected residents.

"You have to be able to live in Sandy Hill, even on that weekend, [and] still be able to live safely in your home."