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Toronto Gays Demand Drug Cleanup


A crackdown has been ordered to cleanup Toronto's Gay Village.  But, few involved believe it will do much good, as drug dealers fight to gain control of the turf.

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Three incidents of gunplay at after hours clubs on the Yonge Street edge of the village have angered residents who for years have been lobbying to get the area back from the dealers.

Five people have been shot, two fatally since March 14 at three clubs.  All had been gay until recently, but owners have converted them to mostly straight all night rave clubs.

Two of the clubs at Yonge and Isabella Streets, an area that is seen as the centre of the drug trade, have residents particularly concerned.  Beside the clubs is a 24-hour a day coffee shop that has been operating without a license for more than two years, and across the street, a small park that is overrun at night with pushers.  On the weekends, the intersection is filled with hundreds of teens who attend the raves and are seen as the main "customers" of the dealers.

Residents say they are scared walking to their homes.

On Tuesday, 100 officials:  fire, health, zoning, building, tax, police and other enforcement agencies will meet to discuss the rave problem.  A campaign against raves and violence-plagued after-hours facilities could lead to a multi-agency quick-strike initiative, as well as stiffer penalties for people at the core of the gatherings, Consumer Minister Bob Runciman said in announcing the meeting last week.

You may be suspicious, but you can't do anything unless you catch them dealing.  After the Yonge Street shootings I decided it was time to get out.
- Local club bouncer
City councilor Kyle Rae, who is gay and represents the area, is feeling the wrath of voters on the issue.  He says he's been working hard on the matter for a long time.  But getting rid of the clubs is not an easy task, he says.

In an interview with the Toronto Sun's Michael Clement, Rae says he began writing the then-general manager of Metro Licensing, Carol Ruddell-Foster four years ago about problems with Cafe Isabella, which some allege is a major hang-out for drug dealers and other rough characters.

Rae told the Sun she was "particularly useless" in helping get the place closed down, or refused a license, he says.  "And you can quote me."

The owners of the cafe and the rave clubs say they are being discriminated against.  They say the shootings are a problem of any big city not their clubs.  Nevertheless, the two men murdered were bouncers at two of the clubs at the intersection.

Rae said Cafe Isabella will have to close, since it has no license, but the owner says he'll remain open during any legal battle.  "He'll have to close and he can appeal, but I can assure him he'll have a roomful of residents and police documenting the terror that emanates from his business," said Rae.

As for the other clubs, Rae told the Sun, "I have got the staff in licensing, building standards, and zoning working on injunctions to compel these businesses to operate as restaurants, not as nightclubs."

The drug problem plaguing the west side of the village is now spilling over onto Church Street, the heart of Gay Toronto.  Recently two bouncers have quit their jobs at one large gay bar.  Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of them told GLTO he was concerned for his safety because of the number of pushers mingling with the crowd.  He said "You may be suspicious, but you can't do anything unless you catch them dealing.  After the Yonge Street shootings I decided it was time to get out."

Cawthra Park in the village has also been taken over by dealers and the homeless.  Over the past six months there have been several incidents of muggings late at night.  The park is the home of Toronto's AIDS memorial.

With civic elections on the horizon, residents are looking to Rae to put pressure on authorities to clean up the area.  But it could be Rae himself who feels the most heat.  City wards have been amended and he will face a tough fight in the area outside the village.  He knows if he loses his power base in the gay community he could lose his bid for re-election.

He has a tough fight on his hands closing down the after hours clubs.  The owners say they will fight any moves to close them in the courts.