By Mike Sale
A recent U.S.-based survey determined that London, Ontario is one of the most desirable places to retire in all of North America. London is a wonderful city with a great reputation. Known as “the forest city,” London has a colorful history with a population exceeding 360,000 and many people consider it to be “the city with everything.” However, Londo faces many of the same challenges faced by larger centers in Canada.
London’s reputation is based, in part, on its two largest educational institutions: the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College. Unfortunately, on St. Patrick’s Day, some students from Fanshawe College brought their school into the international spotlight by rioting in a neighborhood adjacent to the college:
A five-hour-long riot broke out on Fleming Dr., near Fanshawe College, as hundreds of revellers, fuelled by a sun-filled day of drinking, set objects on fire and attacked police and fire department crews as they arrived on the scene.
The event was described as a “war zone” and the rioters displayed “complete disregard for police presence.”
London police chief Brad Duncan said the riot was the worst violence he had seen in the city in his 32-year career. “It was clearly an act of civil disobedience directed toward emergency personnel,” Duncan said Sunday. Many police officers were struck in the head. Fortunately, they were wearing helmets. However, some suffered soft-tissue injuries to their limbs. They were subjected to the sound of glass hitting the pavement for several hours. Wooden planks, debris, tires and full bottles of liquor were thrown at them.
Now, the city is coming to terms with the consequences of this shameful weekend. Many good citizens are stepping forward to clean things up. The mayor and the chief of police are determined to ensure this kind of event never happens again. Fanshawe College is doing everything it can to restore confidence in their institution and their students.
Some critics are saying the police and the city should have been on top of this riot before it happened. With St. Patrick’s Day falling on a Saturday and with temperatures more like June than March, this disturbance was predictable, according to some pundits.
London Police Chief Brad Duncan is one of Ontario’s most capable public safety leaders. Let’s give him time to work with his partners to complete their investigations and to develop methods for preventing future chaos.
Chief Duncan, and the City of London, will be hosting the Annual Meeting of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, June 17–20. I will be there, representing American Military University, and I can bet that this horrible event, and the lessons learned as a result of it, will be a big part of the discussion at this conference.
We usually learn something valuable when disaster strikes. I feel badly for London, Ontario, but I’m betting some good will come out of this in the form of new community safety measures for a risky neighborhood. I lived in London from 1960–1966 and moved away when the population was 120,000. I’m looking forward to visiting my London again this June.
~Michael Sale served with the (Metropolitan) Toronto Police for thirty years, retiring as an Inspector after many years in public affairs and event management. He is a graduate of the 169th Session of the FBI National Academy. Mike has worked as a manager of emergency planning for the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and as a justice studies program coordinator for Humber College. He is currently a law enforcement education coordinator with American Military University and serves as the university’s representative in Canada.