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13 arrests, 8 suspensions after St. Paddy's riot

Hank Daniszewski, QMI Agency

LONDON, Ont. -- Never again.

Fanshawe College president Howard Rundle vowed swift action against Fanshawe students involved in an off-campus melee on St. Patrick's Day that gave the college and the city a black eye in the national and international media.

At a Monday news conference, Rundle said eight students have been suspended and could face expulsion.

"Beginning today, we are taking back the reputation of an exceptional college. We will not have students who behave in this way. If they do, they will be removed."

Rundle said the college changed it code of conduct three years ago to cover off-campus behaviour by students.

"Someone who would throw a brick or start a fire -- that kind of person is dangerous on our campus," he said.

About 1,000 young people swarmed out on Fleming Dr., just east of the Fanshawe campus, on Saturday night. The drunken crowd pelted police with rocks and beer bottles and set a TV news vehicle on fire.

Rundle said hundreds of Fanshawe students were involved in the riotous St. Patrick's Day party, but social media also drew high school students and young people from outside London to the area.

"That's what happens when a student enclave develops," he said. "It earns a reputation and it attracts people."

Veronica Barahona, president of the Fanshawe Student Union, said the reputation of Fanshawe's 16,000 students and tens of thousands of alumni have been tarnished by the mayhem.

"Students are very frustrated. People are graduating and looking for jobs and that is a big concern... You have nothing to do with this situation and you are being tarred with the same brush," Barahona said in an interview.

Fanshawe communications director Emily Marcoccia said London seems to have a growing tradition of rowdy St. Patrick's Day partying not seen in other cities, and the combination of social media and unusually warm weather created a volatile situation.

Rundle said the long-term solution to the problem is the dismantling of the notorious student enclave on Fleming Dr.

Fanshawe has built residences in recent years and also bought a neighbouring townhouse complex to exercise more effective control of student housing.

But Rundle said it would be "prohibitively expensive" for Fanshawe to buy up the single-family homes in the Fleming Dr. area.

Rundle said the area is almost entirely occupied by student tenants who do not feel a responsibility to maintain order.

He said almost all of the traditional family residents have moved out.

"When the residents moved away, the complaints to my office stopped. Students don't complain about neighbouring students. You don't see that elsewhere in the city."

Rundle said the college will work with city officials in cracking down on absentee landlords who have profited from renting out to students.

Rundle said the college, the community and the families of Fanshawe students also have to work to eliminate tolerance of binge drinking.

"There's this notion that St. Patrick's Day should be just a big booze-up... If you are the parent of a student living over there (Fleming Dr.), are you aware of some of the values that some of these people have when they came to our city and our college?"

London-Fanshawe MPP Teresa Armstrong said she has contacted police Chief Brad Duncan and will also contact Rundle. Armstrong said she would assist in any provincial legislation needed to help solve the problem in London and other communities.

"We need to a take a breath and step back a bit and figure out what went wrong," Armstrong said.

City councillor Joe Swan, whose ward takes in the Fanshawe College district, said police and municipalities need more power to intervene and defuse rowdy gatherings. Swan said he started receiving calls on Saturday afternoon about hundreds of students gathering in the area.

"We need more preventative powers. Police are limited in their power to break up the crowd before things get unruly."

Swan said Fanshawe needs to take more aggressive policy towards student housing.

The college should consider buying some of the single-family homes on Fleming Dr. or reaching an agreement with the property owners on rental standards in the neighbourhood, he said.

Land formerly occupied by the London Psychiatric Hospital will soon become available for development, Swan said.

"A multi-family high-rise strategy will flatten the market for students to rent single-family homes."

Police Chief Brad Duncan said Monday officials are in talks about whether to release the names of those charged.

"There might be some young offenders in that group so I think we are going to have a discussion about the release of names," Duncan said.

Several websites have been set up by individuals to identify people who participated in the riot.

Some rioters boasted of their participation on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

-- With files from Chip Martin