Volume 96, Issue 75
Thursday, February 12, 2003

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University liable for young booze-hounds

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

Drunk kids be warned: Western is ready for you.

A paper presented last Friday to the Council of Ontario Universities by Michael Kennedy, a lawyer representing the Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie firm, examined liability to the universities' representatives in regards to the upcoming double cohort.

Kennedy said the consequences of underage drinking, which is expected to increase due to a younger student body, is something universities need to prepare for.

"Universities just have to think about how policies and procedures apply to students, and realize that some of their students may permanently be minors," Kennedy said.

Anatoly Dvorkin, Western's University Students' Council legal affairs officer, pointed out the need for university's to find ways for minors to participate in club events and trips. "Essentially, [it's] the signature of minors to contracts that's worrisome," he said.

According to USC orientation officer Giovanni Paola, Orientation Week events have been alcohol free since 2000. With more minors on campus, Paola said it is the responsibility of O-Week staff to cater to their target audience.

USC alcohol awareness commissioner Mitchell Fong noted his own concerns. "Members of residence staff will find it difficult to handle the implications that an influx of underage students would cause," he said, adding the wet/dry program is one way to ensure minors are not left out of the fun.

"As we're preparing for the double cohort, a number of groups are looking at a number of different considerations," said Arnice Cadieux, executive director of public affairs at the COU, adding the relation of age factor to alcohol consumption on campus is just one of several facets of concern.

Susan Grindrod, associate vice-president of Housing and Ancillary Services at Western, said younger students may need more care and attention. "We need to make sure we provide support. We have to be concerned with the liability and the safety of our students," she said.

Grindrod does not foresee many changes at Western in preparation for the surge in enrollment this fall. "We have quite a number of students who are [minors] now," she said, adding that, although the volume of concerns may change, the rules remain unchanged at this point.

Robert Solomon, a Western law professor specializing in alcohol regulation, differentiated between liability in regular landlord-tenant relationships and those confronting university and student-resident relationships. In the latter, Solomon explained, there is a commitment made by the residences to ensuring mentoring and supervision.

"It would follow naturally that, with a greater number of younger and less-experienced students, that a greater obligation and need for supervision [would exist]," Solomon said.

In cases of alcohol-related injury, the courts would have to determine whether or not the university acted "reasonably" to control the hazard, he added.

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2002 THE GAZETTE