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Five things we learned at the Toronto Safer Nightlife Forum

Can Toronto's clubland chaos be reined in?

TRIP! ProjectFour stakeholders in Toronto’s nightlife community—Yamina-Sara Chekroun (youth-outreach worker/event promoter), Nav Sangha (DJ/venue owner), Mike Homewood (Homewood Security) and Samantha Wells (Centre for Addiction & Mental Health)—came together yesterday at the King West Hyatt Regency to take part in an informative and lively panel discussion moderated by entertainment lawyer and film impresario, Jerry Levitan. A crowd of 70-odd students, club operators, fun-loving partiers, and security- and law-enforcement professionals came out to share their concerns and offer suggestions for managing issues like sexual aggression and illicit drug use in Toronto’s club community. These were the most pertinent talking points:

1. Pay your security staff better

Surly security staff might take a courteous change of heart if they were paid better. “A security guard makes $13-$20 an hour, and that doesn’t include their license, which costs upwards to $500,” said Homewood. As well, some security might be less committed to their job since many only work for extra cash on the weekends. But, at the end of the day, it’s the bar owners that dictate what type of behaviour is acceptable.

2. Clubbers need better education

“When you turn 19, you go to the club and that’s all you know,” said Arthur Geringas, General Manager at Richmond Street’s Club XS. “Unfortunately, the stereotypes are true: 905ers just have less education on these issues—they should be taught effects of drugs and alcohol in school so that they can behave better.” Susan Shepherd, of The Toronto Drug Strategy, piped in: “But there is no mandatory drug education in public schools past Grade 9.”

3. Social media is for more than just event promotion

Along with being a DJ, owner of Wrongbar and co-owner of The Great Hall, Sangha is also something of a social-media creeper.  “I came mostly as an observer, to listen to the voice of the youth. They are very no-holds-barred when it comes to expressing their opinions. It’s so important to be monitoring all avenues, especially social media, because it’s not like nightclubs have suggestion boxes.”

4. Toronto is stuck in the past

Toronto still carries a lot of Prohibition-era baggage that prevents progressive thinking. It’s illegal to be drunk in public, even in bars and clubs, according theAlcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).  “We don’t make the rules, we just enforce them,” said a representative. The situation creates a catch-22 for bar owners who will often toss out inebriated patrons into the cold, without their jackets and belongings, so as to not risk a fine.

5. The kids like to drink

According to the Toronto Safer Nightlife survey, which polled over 300 Toronto club goers aged 19-29, 90 per cent of participants admitted to drinking before going out to the club. About half of the partiers said they down three to five before heading out, most claiming high bar prices as a reason. (Side note: binge drinking isdefined by Toronto Public Health authorities as five or more drinks in one sitting.) When it came to describing their drinking habits at the club, respondents claimed they drank till they felt “drunk enough” (62 per cent), till they ran out of money (36 per cent), till last call (34 per cent) or till they felt ill (32 per cent)—that is, if they weren’t among those who “go all night” (40 per cent).

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