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Red Taping Raves Is the Opposite of Safe [Opinion]

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Dance Music Northwest or its leadership.

An Alberta city wants to impose an immediate moratorium on raves

The city of Edmonton is arming to make changes sparked by a recent report highlighting the impact that raves have on emergency services. A civic working group formed to address concerns regarding raves in Edmonton, identified as “prevalent drug use, drug-facilitated sexual assaults, and resulting public safety issues.”

The city counsel may instill a ban on raves until the civic working group can review potential changes to permits, licensing, public safety, and liability issues. The report brought to city council compares the events to large arena concerts, citing the large difference in hospitalizations, medical interventions, and arrests by police. The city’s biggest concern for these events is public safety.

The city defines raves in this report as “after hour club parties, electronic music shows, and electronic dance parties that feature fast-paced electronic music and light shows.” Ward 6 Councillor Scott McKeen says the recommendation comes from suggestions by the city police. He insists it is not their intention to harm Edmonton’s music scene, but the city’s well-meaning changes to venue licensing may do just that.

If history has proven anything, it’s that prohibition doesn’t work

The prevalence of drugs and alcohol at high-speed electronic dance shows is an age old relationship that goes back to its inception. The city recognizes that people are using these drugs at these events, while ignoring that these drugs are illegal. Their information cites dozens of arrests made at these kind of events, no doubt related to drug use. The drugs are here, whether we like it or not, and it’s clear that legislating them has no effect on their presence. So, if they ban raves, what will happen?

They’re probably still be there. But they’ll be underground, out of sight, possibly out of city limits. They’ll go places that make it easier for them to happen. They might even end up in spaces that are harder for emergency services to access. The parties may become even less safe for those who imbibe drugs and alcohol, which would be a net loss for a city aiming to improve public safety.

The market for raves exists because there is demand for them. People enjoy going to massives and dance parties because they’re fun. Adding red tape to where these events can happen will do nothing to reduce this demand. Those that rave will simply find their fix somewhere else. With that in mind, there may be another solution that aims to address exactly the city’s concerns.

Local harm reduction service shares frustration by the city’s heavy-handed approach

Based out of Edmonton is Indigo Harm Reduction Services. The company provides various services aimed at reducing harm, including safe sex information, safe substance information, supplies for these activities, and field substance testing. They offer trained live event outreach staff who aim to make events and festivals safer.

Their mission to provide safe spaces is admirable. They’re perfectly knowledgeable for this kind of job. In fact, they’ve been trying to discuss this with the main venue for raves. They’re frustrated that their approach is being ignored.

Services like these have documentation to show that it works. Shambhala Music Festival sees roughly 15,000 guests and staff annually at the biggest rave in Canada. They’re renowned for a progressive approach to harm reduction offering a women’s safe space, on-site drug testing, and information about safe sex, substance use, and even hearing loss.

It seems like it’s exactly what the city needs; an approach that acknowledges and treats the reasons why there’s danger. A reduction in harm in practice at Shambhala makes for less medical instances, less hospitalizations and less deaths. Sustainable efforts to mitigate issues, not knee-jerk reactions to them, are what keep people safe.

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