Universities cracking down on St. Patrick’s Day binge drinking


March 17 is a big day for parties at university campuses across the country, but some schools are cracking down on the binge drinking that comes with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Along with Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day is generally the biggest day for binge drinking for Canadian college and university students, Ian Culbert of the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) tells Yahoo Canada News.

“They’re in the middle of the school year, typically at a time of year when they don’t have finals,” says Culbert, CPHA’s executive director. “They have that licence to take a day off.”

But for many of those students, taking that day off means binge drinking, often for hours at a time — and that comes with health risks, Culbert says.

“What we know is that the long-term health consequences of binge drinking can be very much the same as regular heavy drinking,” he says.

Now some Canadian schools and cities are trying to cut down on binge drinking tied to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

At Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario, the school has spoken out against off-campus parties and removed posters and St. Patrick’s Day items from the campus bookstore. And the City of Waterloo has cancelled an off-campus licensed tent event.

“St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Waterloo have grown substantially in recent years,” read a letter sent by university provost Deb MacLatchy to Laurier faculty and staff.

Festivities in the Ezra Street area, popular with students living off campus, have grown in size as revellers bus in from other nearby communities and universities and house parties offer kegged beer. Last year on March 17 Waterloo regional police laid 269 charges in that area, mostly related to the possession of open alcohol but also including underage drinking, Highway Traffic Act offences and unlawful bodily emissions.

The provost’s letter outlined that students who have been drinking should be turned away from class on March 17, and faculty should encourage students to show up as expected on the day and not skip classes for parties.

However, Laurier’s student union president counters that students are able to make their own decisions about whether or not to drink or attend parties on St. Patrick’s Day.

“There are some students who want to study and go to class on March 17. That is a perfectly acceptable choice,” Olivia Matthews wrote on the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union website. “There are some students who want to go celebrate. That is also acceptable.”

Licensed venues on campus will be open on March 17, Matthews wrote, and extra security will be working to ensure the safety of students, whether they are celebrating or going to class.

Efforts across Canada

Other universities across Canada are taking measures that are less involved, but still aimed at reducing the risks associated with the binge drinking that come along with many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., is banning backpacks and bags from its dining halls on March 17, and requiring everyone at the halls to show photo identification. The school is also placing restrictions on guests in residence for the days around St. Patrick’s Day.

Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., will enforce the alcohol policy it has in place year-round, says spokeswoman Laura Barron.

“There are no specific guidelines regarding particular days or times of the year, as the alcohol policy applies to all activities on campus, year-round, which involve alcohol,” Barron says.

St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the province, which means that some university facilities, including the library, will have reduced hours.

Binge drinking among young Canadians is on the rise, according to a 2015 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Regular binge drinking rose in Canada over the past 20 years, the report found, and Culbert says about 24 per cent of Canadian teens and adults report having engaged in binge drinking.

There are established health risks tied to binge drinking — which is defined as having five (for males) or four (for females) drinks on one occasion — including alcohol dependence, brain and liver damage, and alcohol poisoning that can lead to death. Culbert acknowledges that most young people would probably not consider that number of drinks a binge episode, which itself is part of the problem.

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