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eye - 05.11.00

Ravers ask chief to face facts on gun claims


The city's dance community is calling on police chief Julian Fantino to "set the record straight" on guns and raves.

Following last week's report in eye casting doubts on the chief's claims of weaponry seized at raves, the Toronto Dance Safety Committee is asking Fantino for an emergency meeting.

"If anyone can tell us which rave any of those guns came from, then that's something we'd very much like to hear," says spokesperson Will Chang.

Late last month, Fantino posed at police headquarters with scores of guns and knives seized by Operation Strike Force. He confirmed that some of the items were obtained at raves.

Local and national news outlets ran headlines of teens, drugs, guns and sundry mayhem.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Ron Taverner -- who heads up the operation -- was telling eye that none of the weapons had been seized at raves. The hook of it was, Strike Force hadn't discovered any weapons at raves, just drugs.

According to a police news release, Strike Force seized 12 handguns and two sawed-off shotguns, along with various knives and "stick-type" weapons at "licensed" and "unlicensed premises." There was no connection made between raves and weapons. Days after it was issued, the force's corporate communications branch was backing Taverner's version, even though it contradicts Fantino's.

More recently, the chief has been quoted as saying that raves are "threatening the very fabric of Canadian life."

Chang says it's getting to be a bit much, and that the committee faxed in a request to meet with the chief last week. So far, there's been no reply. "All we want to do is say, 'Look, if you the mayor and you the chief of police are going to do everything you can to shut down something -- before you do that, just please find out what it is you're shutting down.'"

Fantino did not return eye's phone calls. A spokesperson said the chief has been too busy with his schedule of comunity meetings to sit down with ravers.

Meanwhile, the fantasy arms bust seems to have caught Mayor Mel Lastman in his own feedback loop. Lastman hasn't just been talking about guns and raves -- he's promising to effectively ban the parties from city properties.

"If you saw him on CP24," says Chang, "one of the questions by a caller was, 'Did you know that none of the weapons presented at the biggest news conference on raves were actually seized at raves?' Mel Lastman's response was, 'Raves are places where people bring guns to shoot each other.'

"I don't know where the guy is getting his stuff. There are more guns seized from high-school lockers than there are from raves."

Mayor Lastman did not respond to eye's request for a clarification.

City councillors are shying away from the claims of the chief and the mayor.

"I've not heard of weapons being found or people being engaged in violent activity or acts of vandalism," says Councillor Joe Pantalone. Pantalone is chair of Exhibition Place, home of the Better Living Centre, which has hosted two high-profile raves this year.

"The question of drug abuse, I'm inclined to believe it," says Pantalone. "But I don't know that it's any worse or better than other social events where young people gather, like rock concerts. If the mayor wants to pause, we'll get to the bottom of things in terms of what is actually happening out there, and that's fine with me. However, if it's just strictly [to] stop these things and close our eyes... I don't think that's the solution."

Downtown councillor Kyle Rae says Lastman is "overreacting -- again. Raves, as we have been managing them at the CNE, are the appropriate way to try and manage the issue. We provide a safe space that's fire-coded and emergency-coded. And I'm not aware of any gunplay happening down there.

"The problems I deal with in the downtown are not raves. There are after-hours clubs where there has been gunplay and fighting over drug turf. The raves are not the same thing, but some people don't know what they're talking about."


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