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Ban on dance events stirs debate about safety, competition

A new ban on all-ages dance music events at Exhibition Place – imposed at the urging of a nearby nightclub owner – is about business, not safety, a city councillor says.

The board of Exhibition Place voted to impose the ban on Friday, after hearing from Zlatko Starkovski, owner of the Muzik nightclub, which also operates on the city-owned grounds, who warned about the safety issues of all-ages shows, which admit people who are under the legal drinking age.

But Councillor Gord Perks, one of three board members to oppose the ban, said it is driven by the interests of a club that counts Mayor Rob Ford among its clients.

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"It is a business competitive issue," Mr. Perks said on Friday after the vote, pointing to a letter that Mr. Starkovski wrote in January to the board chair, Councillor Mark Grimes, expressing concern about the impact of the dance music events on his club. "Each event that occurs further jeopardizes our business plan," it concludes. That letter, Mr. Perks said, is what put the item on the board's agenda. The ban does not require council approval, but Mr. Perks said he will look for ways to reopen the debate.

Mr. Grimes, who voted for the ban, said he was made aware of the safety risks after the daughter of a friend who also knows Mr. Starkovski was involved in an incident at one of the events.

Mayor Ford has been known to frequent Muzik, and was spotted there last weekend, the night he caused a commotion at a Toronto Maple Leafs game.

Mr. Ford is not a member of the Exhibition Place board.

At the board meeting on Friday, Mr. Starkovski said drug dealers and pedophiles "flock" to the all-ages events.

"Eventually, something is going to go wrong," he warned.

A report from Exhibition Place staff recommended that the dance music concerts continue. The events, once known as raves, have been held on the grounds in various forms since the 1990s. They are monitored by police, private security and Emergency Medical Services and are held according to protocols developed with input from council, emergency services and the board of health, it said. They also generate revenue for the city-owned agency.

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Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who proposed the ban, warned young people could die from drug overdoses if the events were allowed to continue. Responding to critics of the ban, Mr. Mammoliti put out a press release on Friday afternoon entitled, "Let's all take a chill pill for now."

"City property will not be used for raves where children of all ages would be exposed to substance abuse, and taxpayers will not bear the burden of the difficulties that often arise from holding such events," it read.

Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the city's economic development committee, said he is concerned about the move, which he says runs counter to his efforts to grow Toronto's music industry.

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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