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Councillors seek to veto ban on all-ages dance parties

Mike Layton, the son of Jack Layton, held a small press conference March 5, 2010 at the south-east corner of Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto to announce his candidacy as city councillor for Trinity-Spadina. Councillor Layton is asking council to force the Exhibition Place board to reverse a ban on all-ages events at a nightclub in the area.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The battle over electronic music events at Exhibition Place is moving to city hall with a push for council to veto a new ban on the all-ages gatherings imposed by the board of the city-owned site.

Councillor Mike Layton is asking council to force the Exhibition Place board to reverse that ban, enacted earlier this month at the urging of the area's nightclub owner who has ties to Mayor Rob Ford.

Mr. Layton, whose ward includes Exhibition Place, was one of three members of its board to vote against the prohibition. He said council needs to step in because the move goes against city policy and is designed to protect the interests of a single business, rather than the safety of young people as it was presented at the board meeting.

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"This is all about business," Mr. Layton said.

Mr. Layton and Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the city's economic development committee, will ask council at its May meeting to override the board's vote. They will need the support of two-thirds of councillors for it to be considered.

Muzik nightclub owner Zlatko Starkovski, who holds a long-term lease to operate out of the Horticultural building at Exhibition Place, warned board members at their April meeting about the hazards of the dance parties, which do not restrict entry based on age.

Drug dealers and pedophiles "flock" to the events, he said. "Eventually, something is going to go wrong," he warned.

Councillors Mark Grimes and Giorgio Mammoliti, also members of the Exhibition Place board, supported the ban and expressed concern for the safety of the young people that go to the gatherings.

But in January, Mr. Starkovski wrote to Mr. Grimes, the board chair, expressing concern about the impact of the all-ages dance parties on his club. "Each event that occurs further jeopardizes our business plan," it concludes.

"It's tough to claim your motives are altruistic when you have just asked for changes because of financial issues. I'm sorry, " Mr. Layton said in an interview Friday.

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Mr. Layton also questioned the ban, given Mr. Starkovski's ties to the mayor.

Mayor Ford has been known to frequent Muzik, and was spotted there earlier this month after he caused a commotion at a Toronto Maple Leafs game. Mr. Ford later told reporters he went to the nightclub after getting a call from "Zee" (Mr. Starkovski) at about 1:30 a.m.

The new ban comes at a time when the city is trying to encourage the growth of Toronto's music industry, Mr. Layton said. It also is contrary to a long-held city policy of hosting the events, once known as raves, so that they can be monitored for safety.

The motion that will go to council next month also asks the Exhibition Place board to review safety protocols for the dance parties and to report back to council by July.

It is estimated the events generated about $1-million annually for Exhibition Place.

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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