The 4 a.m. assault on Club 338, in a bleak two-storey building on Adelaide Street, near Peter Street, saw several hundred patrons detained and searched. A few hours later police raided two apartments on the same block that were said to serve as “stash houses” for the drugs.
Preceded by months of surveillance, the bust was on the heels of an unrelated incident a day earlier, a few hundred metres away, in which police investigating a shootout hauled seven people from a stretch limousine at gunpoint and discovered a handgun in the car.
Describing drug sales at Club 338 as “rampant,” Superintendent Hugh Ferguson said the trafficking was orchestrated by Asian organized-crime groups, with the knowledge of some club staff, and chiefly involved ecstasy, along with crystal meth, cocaine, marijuana and GHB, the so-called date-rape drug.
“One of the seasoned officers involved in the project indicated that he had never seen so much drugs openly exposed, lying there right on the tables,” he said.
“People would snort it right off their hands.”
Displayed in plastic bags at the 52 Division police station, many of the confiscated pills and vials were picked up from the floor of the club, dropped by alarmed patrons as police unexpectedly burst in, yelling “Freeze!”
Two guns that were seized, a revolver and a modified assault rifle, were found in the two nearby apartments.
Despite the weekend arrests, Supt. Ferguson said that thanks to several initiatives – closed-circuit cameras, improved street-lighting and the presence of police in highly visible, green, fluorescent vests – the district bordered by Queen, Wellington, Spadina and Simcoe streets remains safe for most visitors.
“We have close to 70 active nightclubs in the area and, on the surface, I think it does look bad – we have had some incidents,” he said.
“But when you consider that we have anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 people down there on a Friday or Saturday night, we don't have a lot of this [criminal] behaviour … .”
The number of clubs in the area has shrunk from about 90 two years ago, reflecting either run-ins with the law or commercial pressures that have seen some locations snapped up by developers.
And more pressure is coming, in the shape of revised rules governing new clubs, said Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), who sits on a task force that oversees the entertainment district.
“I expect this to be the first of a number of these sorts of raids,” Mr. Vaughan said, praising police for their efforts to keep the area peaceful.
He said that while “there's no attempt on my part to ban dancing or stamp out fun in this city,” the big, “hyper-commercialized” clubs in the city are in decline.
“The era of the big-box club is over,” he said.
With a report from Jeff Gray