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Toronto councillor wants to enforce bylaw that could shut down almost every LGBT club

Only 40 venues in Toronto have a nightclub licence and most are located in the Entertainment District

Clubgoers party on Church Street at the now-defunct bar and restaurant Byzantium in May 2014.

Credit: Xtra File Photo

Toronto isn’t the town from Footloose yet, but it’s getting close.

City councillors are looking at potentially cracking down on nightclubs that operate without a nightclub licence, which includes most, if not all, LGBT clubs in Toronto.

Nightclub licences are rarely given to venues outside of the Entertainment District, meaning that clubs in Church-Wellesley Village, West Queen West, Little Italy and Bloor St West could be fined or shut down on a moment’s notice. 

In March 2017, the licensing and standards committee asked the head of Toronto’s licensing department to report on the issue in April.

“There are operators that are circumventing the licensing process by applying for a restaurant licence and then at night taking away the restaurant chairs and operating illegally as a night club,” says Councillor Jim Karygiannis by email. Karygiannis, who presented the motion, is also the co-chair of the city’s municipal licensing and standards committee. “There are examples when looking at these establishments websites and they are packing people into small spaces and that could be dangerous.”

Currently, there are only 40 venues in Toronto that have a nightclub licence, the vast majority of which are in the Entertainment District. None of these venues regularly host LGBT events.

“If a venue is outside the area where they cannot apply for these licences then they should not be carrying on an inappropriate venue,” Karygiannis says. “On the other hand, we should look at expanding these venues outside the entertainment district in order to look after all the communities which want to have entertainment facilities.”

Karygiannis urged anyone with concerns to get in touch with the licensing and standards committee.

Noel Gerry, a lawyer who represents bars and clubs in Toronto, says that city bylaws make it almost impossible for nightclubs to follow the rules.

“The issue is you actually have to have zoning for a nightclub, and that’s virtually non-existent,” he says. “It’s pretty much restricted to the Entertainment District.”

The only option that nightclub owners have is to try to change the zoning bylaw in their neighbourhoods.

“And that’s an extremely difficult thing to do,” he says. “It’s time consuming and expensive, and usually the local city councillor would oppose it.”

Venues operating without a nightclub licence can be fined thousands of dollars or even be taken to court and shut down for up to two years. 

Kelly Kyle, the chair of the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area, says that she hopes the city is willing to work with businesses instead of fining them or shutting them down. 

“I would hope that they would have some compassion and work with the establishments that are here that may fall under that umbrella,” she says.

Kyle believes that having nightlife outside of the Entertainment District is essential for LGBT Torontonians. 

“I do think that it plays a vital role for the community to have a safe place,” she says.