Volume 93, Issue 47

Tuesday, November 23, 1999


London's evolving party scene

Countering a counter-culture

Countering a counter-culture

Photo by Liz Kaminsky
LONDON'S LOCAL TALENT ON THE DECKS. Western student DJ Doublecross, also known as Rob Beal, spins some jungle at last summer's Delicate Beats party in Ottawa.

By Becky Somerville
Gazette Staff

Since the drug-related deaths of three Toronto-area ravers this summer, both provincial and police actions are being proposed in an attempt to quell the incidence of illicit drug use at the after-hours parties.

But will this attention create gratuitous skepticism and misinformed irrationalities which will drive the party scene further underground, or will the intervention create an awareness which could save lives and dispel delusions?

A provincial government/ Toronto police summit on raves is presently examining ways to suppress the use of popular party drugs such as MDMA, or "Ecstasy," which are perceived to be an integral part of the rave subculture.

"One drug overdose death is too many," said Terry Simzer, communications assistant for Consumer and Commercial Relations Minister Bob Runciman. "Essentially the idea [of the summit] is to bring together a number of people who have some jurisdiction in respect to public safety on a problem which seems to be growing."

Simzer explained the summit would bring to the table government and health officials, police and municipal representatives to make a concerted effort to address the issues of the profitable, growing industry.

Not only are drugs a problem, Simzer said, but so is the cause and effect relationship which ensures greater profits for dealers and private promoters. "One of the things that happens at the parties, is that many of the drugs used cause people to become quite dehydrated. They're selling water for three to five dollars a bottle and capitalizing on it."

Simzer explained another health concern was that the water is generally shut off at rave venues, thus forcing people to purchase water at exorbitant rates.

Detective Court Booth of the Special Investigation Services unit at the Toronto Police said collaboration with the government will aim to develop an enforcement strategy and a set of rules or guidelines which will help to control the problems associated with raves such as drug use and noise.

"MDMA has been popularized by raves," Booth said, explaining there is a wide spectrum of dangerous drugs used at the parties, including GHB, PCP, methamphetamines and LSD.

"We're aiming for an enforcement strategy, but also a cumulative understanding to make these parties safe and fun to go to," Booth said. He explained by trying to outlaw these events, people have alleged it may lead to driving them underground. However, a co-operative agreement with promoters and ravers would alleviate the need for excessive laws or legislation, Booth said.

"There is a lot of misinformation about this subject," said Richard Garlick, director of communications at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. "Until someone really studies the subject [of rave-related deaths] it is difficult to know how serious it is."

Garlick said perhaps it is not the drugs themselves which harm people, but rather the excessive dancing which leads to dehydration. The drugs typically used at raves such as MDMA can be problematic, he added, but so can any drug, such as cannabis, which is still the most commonly used illicit drug in Canada.

"Some of the more familiar drugs like alcohol and tobacco should be looked at before there is too much concentration on Ecstasy, which is still relatively uncommon," Garlick said.

However, Jim Young, Ontario's chief coroner, said the rave deaths warrant serious investigation. Pending autopsy and toxicology results, which will either confirm or deny the two recent Toronto deaths were overdoses, Young said he may hold an inquest to help expose the dangers of the underground parties.

"[An inquest] will try to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future," Young explained. He added the inquest would examine how raves originated, look at the drugs used and people involved, in order to assess how further deaths could be avoided.

Another avenue for awareness is the Toronto Raver Information Project – a harm-reduction project designed by and for ravers which aims to educate and inform party-goers on safe sex and drug use, needle exchange and referrals, says Mary Lemke, harm reduction team leader for TRIP.

Lemke explained the project is organized through Toronto's Queen West Community Health Clinic and is fueled by the assistance of over 40 trained volunteers.

TRIP sets up a booth at the rave parties which serves to encourage ravers to make informed decisions. TRIP, Lemke explained, provides information in a socially acceptable, unobtrusive manner and aims to stay within the boundaries of the rave subculture so the information will be heard and put into practice.

Alex D., editor and publisher of Tribe magazine, a Canadian guide to the rave scene and culture, said the issue of drug deaths in the party scene has been generated by the media. "Three deaths in one year with possible links to the rave scene represent a tiny fraction of the total number of deaths related to substance abuse in Ontario.

"The rave scene is perfect for the media to seize on, instead of the lack of affordable housing in Toronto, because it is a colourful and strange subculture and seems bizarre to the mainstream reader," Alex D. said.

The government intervention is not necessary, he said, although police need to be more involved in weeding out dealers from the rave scene in Toronto. He added attempting to shut down the raves would not accomplish much and would lead to the escalation of drug use. "A better idea is for the police to work hand in hand with the promoters and organizers for the benefit of our community.

"For, me anyway, I hope the media gets tired of listening to themselves talk. They have effectively branded all ravers as druggies without realizing that their own kids are going to raves, too. I hope that the public are smart enough to see through the hype and sensationalism. I hope the government at all levels keeps a 'hands off' approach, but supports a co-operative police and promoter crackdown on drug dealers at events."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999