Haweater’s energy may be diminished by police numbers

In 2009, at the end of Haweater Weekend festivities at that time, minor chaos broke out throughout the town of Little Current following the Sunday night street dance.

Nothing too serious happened, but citizens were concerned that roving groups of people they did not know were being seen throughout the community that night.

There was an incident in the downtown where some young people had gotten onto the roof of one of the buildings and then were seen running from one end of the front street to the other, high above the sidewalk and business owners were justifiably concerned about liability issues in the event that someone fell and was hurt. There were also acts of vandalism in the downtown when a window at the Edgewater Restaurant was smashed.

This resulted in meetings among the Ontario Provincial Police’s (OPP) Manitoulin detachment, the Little Current Lions Club, the Little Current BIA (that represents the downtown business community) and the Northeast Town council.

The result was that the OPP brought in a larger police presence the following Haweater Weekend, in and around Little Current, and the police service, through its community service officer, has been stressing “zero tolerance” concerning infractions of the Liquor Control Act since that time, especially just prior to all subsequent Haweater Weekends. The Little Current Lions Club also scaled back its Sunday night street dance, ending it when the fireworks began.

The following Haweater Weekend, 2010, there was indeed a much heightened OPP presence and the previous year’s one-time party scene and downtown ruckus did not reoccur, nor has it since, and no-one can object to this. The heightened police presence has remained in place for all subsequent Haweater Weekends.

This past weekend, however, the police presence in and around Little Current seemed unusually high and this has been an observation that has been much repeated during and since Haweater Weekend.

Police services are charged back to the municipality and so the greater use of these services, the larger the corresponding cost to taxpayers.

That is something that municipal officials may wish to consider for Haweater Weekend 2016 and make suggestions as they see fit.

The other factor is, plain and simply, one of intimidation. The more officers that are in circulation, whether in OPP vehicles, on foot (usually in pairs or even three officers together), on bicycles or driving bright yellow four-wheelers (again, two at a time), the effect on some people minding their own business and intent on enjoying the weekend is unsettling and this has also been a concern that has made its way around the community as people wonder why, exactly, so many of these uniformed officers were among them all weekend, speculating that perhaps the police know something of potential “trouble” that has led to such an increase in the law enforcement presence.

Most officers who come to an event like Haweater Weekend for extra duty are not part of the local detachment and so are not known to local citizens and there is often not much opportunity for conversations about why so much policing with the officers themselves.

The one year when there was more impromptu partying than usual in Little Current (almost exclusively by non-Manitoulin revellers) has led directly to this year’s seemingly above-average police presence.

Perhaps, for all of the reasons cited, it is time for the local police administration, the Lions Club and the municipal council to once again talk about what is required by way of police presence for a safe and happy Haweater Weekend in 2016.

The point has now been well made that “zero tolerance” is the rule for Liquor Control Act infractions and perhaps, based on costs alone, the municipality can recommend through discussions a decrease in the number of officers on patrol during the annual festival.

There is no question that the other concern, that of implied intimidation, should also be taken into consideration as the community and the event’s organizer, the local service club, consider how they wish to present themselves to visitors to the town during the year’s main civic celebration because last weekend, during the brightest hours of daylight, there was a police presence virtually everywhere.

This factor, taken over the past six Haweater Weekend events, will almost certainly have had a cumulative effect on people deciding whether or not they’ll come to the annual Haweater Weekend party with their family. If attendance has diminished at some events, which it has, it is very likely due in part to the fact that some people do not consider a large police presence or particularly welcoming symbol as they may easily think that this implies a troubled community and this is something that, once observed, can be passed on to friends and relatives and so “word of mouth” advertising can easily be harmful to the community and to the Lions Club’s event.

This observation is certainly not meant either as a welcome to any criminal or hooligan or as criticism of the Ontario Provincial Police as they carry out the tasks they’ve been given. The OPP’s “zero tolerance” message is appropriately directed to the anti-social element and this message appears to have been hitting home.

But for many years, there was a unique and vital energy that infused Little Current just prior to and during Haweater Weekend.

That energy, by observation, is now much diminished and it is fair comment to connect this change, at least in part, to the large and public police presence during the past six annual Haweater events.

It is time to reinfuse energy into the ‘Island’s big bash,’ especially as it nears its 50th anniversary.

Haweater Weekend, which over its nearly half-century, has seen constant and continuous changes to keep it current and relevant, will of necessity keep on changing.

A part of this renewing and reviewing of Haweater Weekend should include the consideration of the absolute policing requirements necessary for Haweater Weekend, together with the mandate imposed on the officers assigned to ‘Haweater duty’ in order to determine a rebalancing of the appropriate police presence required during this major event.

This commentary is by no means meant to be critical of our police service but it would be unfortunate if a major police presence becomes a permanent and abiding part of people’s memories and images of this signature Island event.

It was conceived of as a fun and carefree homecoming-style event and so it has remained for most of its history and so it should continue into its next half-century.

It’s time to rethink all aspects of our much-loved Haweater Weekend.