Teenagers are risking their lives at mass ‘raves’ where dangerous drugs are sold, and fire and safety codes violated
The music blaring from the old warehouse is so loud the street seems to rock. Bright blue lights shine through the upper windows and a crowd of teens is gathered at the door.
A guy who seems to be in charge tells everyone it’s $30 to get in. Earplugs are offered and highly recommended. As the partygoers pay, they are thoroughly searched for weapons and alcohol.
The smell of marijuana is almost overpowering as you enter the rundown building. Teens, some as young as 14, are either huddled in groups smoking pot and swaying gently to the beat, or sitting on the dirty floor, head in hands, oblivious to everything.
The first room is large, dark and loud. There is a deejay on a platform and along the sides of the room, people are selling organic drugs like Herbal Acid, liquid and herbal Ecstasy and Rush.
The ingredients, effects and warnings for these drugs, which are illegal for sale, are listed on small, brightly colored pieces of paper stacked on the tables.
“Combining this product with alcohol can be dangerous or even fatal,” notes the paper for a herbal drug called Giggle Juice.
The only furniture is a few tables to display the organic drugs. A row of portable toilets lines one wall.
There are two floors, each with a deejay playing loud rhythmic music with no words. By 1 a.m., there are about 2,000 kids. A third floor will open later during this 24-hour party, which organizers expect to attract more than 4,000 young people at its peak. This will be the chill-out room where kids can sleep, puke or experience their hallucinations.
This is a rave, a weekly party that police and social workers say is one of the fastest growing – and worrisome – social trends among teens in the Greater Toronto Area.
The parties are known to violate fire and safety codes, and illegally sell dangerous drugs openly on the premises.
They are organized by companies about whom little is known and who rent warehouses, arenas and other large buildings for a day or a weekend. Raves are advertised on the Internet and through brochures distributed in malls and stores. The location is usually not available until the evening of the event when it’s posted on the Net or on a recorded phone message.
Any event like a rave requires a municipal permit, otherwise it’s illegal. But police say they can’t do anything if they find one going on without a permit, or violating noise or fire bylaws. They have to call in city bylaw officers.
“We hear about raves after the fact. The organizers don’t want us to know where they are because they’re illegal,” says Jim Prashad, assistant co-ordinator of the City of Toronto’s noise control office.
At raves in the U.S. and England, kids have died or been seriously injured in incidents mostly attributed to drugs. There have been no reported deaths or injuries at raves in Canada.
Amy is a 17-year-old from Oakville who attends raves regularly.
“There’s no prejudice. Everyone loves everyone else,” she says. “The herbal drugs help keep your energy up so you feel good.”
Sara, 17, has been going to raves since she was 12.
“I go to raves every weekend in Toronto, Brampton and Hamilton,” she says. “Ravers like you to be yourself. It’s like a family thing where everyone’s a friend.”
Although raves are sometimes advertised on flyers as not allowing illicit substances, Sarah says pot is always popular at the parties. She prefers Ecstasy, or MDMA, a trendy raver’s drug that is both a hallucinogen and an amphetamine. Possession and sale of chemical drugs, like MDMA, is illegal.
“Ecstasy gives you a spiritual feeling. It’s a state of mind,” she explains. “Ecstasy helps me put everything in perspective.”
But Metro Police Detective Ian Briggs says 90 per cent of the drugs sold as Ecstasy are not really Ecstasy.
“A lot of it is PCP or other dangerous drugs. People selling these drugs are unscrupulous. They’re not around when the drugs start taking effect.”
Sarah admits that “a lot of people are selling drugs called Ecstasy but they’re not really MDMA. There could be heroin, coke or crystal meth mixed in.
“Some people even put household cleaners like bleach into the dryer for a few days to crystallize it and then sell it as meth. The eyes seem to pop out of the heads of kids who do this.”
Ecstasy, in relatively small doses, has the potential for strong negative effects, including insomnia, convulsions or even permanent neurological damage, according to the Addiction Research Foundation.
The sale of herbal or organic drugs, classified as drugs under the Food and Drug Act, is illegal unless authorized by Health Canada. Those drugs sold at raves have not been.
“We give authorization in the form of a Drug Identification Number (DIN) which must be properly seen on the packaging,” says Micheline Ho, chief of the product regulations division of the health protection branch.
Briggs says police are responsible for all drugs classified under the Food and Drug Act, which includes all herbal drugs. Chemical drugs fall under the Narcotics Act. However, Briggs says he knows nothing about DINs and that police must have drugs tested if they’re not sure about their legal status, before any charges can be laid.
Organic drugs sold at raves cost a few dollars and up. But nobody really knows what’s in them or what the reactions will be if two are combined, say experts and teens.
Halton Centre MPP Terence Young says he recently attended a rave in Toronto to see for himself what was happening:
“My primary concern is that you have 4,000 people or more in an old warehouse with no running water, no washrooms, no medical aid, no fire extin-guishers or alarms, a narrow staircase, and only one exit that I could see.
“If there is a fire, there would be a major catastrophe. There is also the issue of personal security, especially for vulnerable females taking drugs, who could be assaulted. I’m also concerned about the herbal drugs kids are taking.”
The Fire Marshal’s Office acknowledges that raves violate fire and safety codes: insufficient exits, overcrowding, no sprinkler protection, no alarms, no fire extinguishers, hazardous materials sometimes stored on site.
“We can order the building closed, but the problem is we don’t know about raves in advance,” says fire marshal spokesperson Ed Gulbinas. “This makes it difficult to enforce. Even a stampede, where people panic, would kill more people than a fire.”
So concerned is the Fire Marshal’s Office that last January a warning was issued to school boards, colleges and universities.
“Injury and death may occur as a result of fire hazards in warehouses which are often not designed to accommodate large groups of people,” read the communique, urging people to contact their local fire department if they hear of a rave in advance.
The rave Young attended was posted on the Internet and flyers were available at stores. As with many such events, shuttle buses were provided at Nathan Phillips Square.
Even when a rave is discovered, it can be dangerous to shut it down.
“If we decide to shut a place down, then we’re dumping large numbers of angry people into residential neighborhoods,” Briggs notes. “There could be vandalism, damage to cars and all kinds of problems, so this has to be handled very carefully.”
To avoid problems, police try to find the rave location and shut it down before the event starts.
Many of the people who own the warehouses where raves are held don’t even know there’s a huge party planned for their building, police say.
“We recently found a rave on King St. with 3,000 kids in an underground parking lot,” says Donna Perrin, Toronto’s manager of bylaw enforcement.
Officers didn’t break it up because “it would have been too dangerous. But we did get an order telling the owner he couldn’t have this kind of event again . . .
“Another time, we got wind of one before it began and we boarded it up, but the rave moved to another location.”
Raves are big business. Organizers stand to take in $100,000 or more a night.
Chris Diodati, a deejay who promoted a rave on Carlaw Ave. in February, says, “It’s all about the music business. We rented out the space and had insurance. If the police had wanted to shut us down, they would have shut us down.
“We’re trying to better the scene, to keep it clean, organized, and to keep kids off the street,” Diodati adds. “Everybody thinks it’s about drugs, but it’s all about the music. The deejay controls the whole crowd. He’s the chemical of the party.
“I want the kids to know it’s okay to party, but be careful with what you do.”
See related stories on Page H4 and H1.
4 COLOR PHOTOS: STAR COLOR PHOTO: (RUSSELL) RAVE ON: Young people say huge rave parties, like this one recently held in Metro, allow you “to be yourself.” DRUG INFO: Small, colorful flyers tell ravers about the various herbal drugs that are sold – illegally – at parties.