Found from DanceSafe
E-News Issue No. 4
February 1-7, 2001
Interview by Jane Tseng, DanceSafe
The Toronto Raver Info Project (TRIP) is a community based peer education and harm reduction group in Toronto, Canada. TRIP was founded approximately five years ago and works out of Queen West Health Center. They have established themselves as experts in health issues surrounding the late night dance music scene in Toronto through their community forums and booth outreach services at events. In light of recent events in New Orleans, E-News talked with Erin Lewis, Project Director of TRIP about how they worked with city officials and the rave community a year and a half ago when the city of Toronto placed a ban on raves.
E-News: How would you compare the recent events surrounding raves in the United States to the government crackdown on raves in Toronto last year?
Lewis: There are a lot of things that are very familiar, they sound very much like what was going on here in Toronto last year. The city was saying that raves are warehouses of sin. There was story in the newspaper wherethey took pictures of ecstasy pills and put them next to a table full of guns, saying that all of these drugs and these guns were confiscated at raves, when the reality is that there has never been a gun found out a rave in Toronto. They really sort of played up on the hazards of the environment saying that there weren’t any washrooms and people were filling their water bottles up out of toilets and things like that. In response, what they did was ban raves off of the city’s property, because the city doesn’t support this kind of behavior. They said “You can’t have anything there, because your parties are too dangerous”. The problem was that the city property, the exhibition grounds in Toronto, is the most safe environment for large gatherings of people, because that is what it was built for. It is adequately zoned, it has exits, hundreds of toilets, running water, and its own security.
E-News: How did the ban on raves and the negative public attention on the rave scene affect the harm reduction work that TRIP does?
Lewis: Trip actually had to sit through this inquest into the death of a guy who died on ecstasy a year and a half ago at a party. We went through having our information out there on trial…having all of these powerful people from the city pulling apart everything in our information, telling us, “You’re promoting drug use.” They were saying that information like ours contributed to his death, and that we were making people want to use drugs. That was absolute hell. But we’re still kicking, right?
E-News: What steps did TRIP and the community take to react to the government crackdown?
Lewis: We did a lot as TRIP and the Toronto Dance Safety Committee, whose chair was the project manager of TRIP at that time. The Party People Project, which is a community activism project that started out of one of TRIP’s community forums, is a group of about 150 people from the rave community in Toronto that also happened to be politically active. They were also very loud and very political. They took every measure to fight the government in the crackdown and really worked to mobilize themselves. When the city government was deciding whether or not to keep the ban in place, the Party People Project and the Toronto Dance Safety Committee put together a huge information package and an accompanying video that really went in depth to dispel all of these myths about the community. They did a lot of political lobbying. One of the things that we did was to organize a large rally at city hall and we were able to pull together about 20,000 people for
that. We had say “Hey, we’re here, and we dance, and its not just ravers that you would be shutting down through this crackdown”.
E-News: Did the rave community enlist the support of any other organizations?
Lewis: The way that everything was worded in this government crackdown meant that if they were going to be banning raves, they would be banning a number of large exhibitions through the city, a number of multi-cultural festivals, the gay pride ball, and things like that. It really alarmed a number of other communities as well. We really worked to get their support, and to help to fight this.
E-News: When the city lifted the ban on raves, did the govornment create more regulations on how parties would be thrown?
Lewis: The protocols for safer dance events was initially carried out by the Toronto Dance Safety Committee, which is affiliated with TRIP. We were very closely involved in writing that protocols and working with the city to find some room for agreement. The police force, and the city of Toronto, and the media were really working together on this to shut down the scene and there are a lot of residual affects from that. There are a lot of protocals in place that make it really hard for people to throw parties in Toronto. It has caused a lot of division among the rave community. People started finger-pointing. Who wants to work with the city on something as sacred as your dance floor? We shouldn’t be in this situation anyway. But unfortunately, we had no choice. All of these promoters in the city and all of the party kids in the city could get busted if we hadn’t worked with the city to find some common ground. The biggest fight around that was to define what constitutes a rave, and what constitutes a raver. That was a really tough one to define. We had to be very choosy with our words, and very careful as to how we would define a rave, so that other groups that throw events that aren’t necessarily raves, wouldn’t fall into the same sort of situation.
E-News: What experience or advice can you give on how to deal with a situation where your community is being unfairly targeted?
Lewis: You have to be really proactive. You have to say, “we’re going to fight this, we’re going to win.”