The Comfort Zone, an after-hours music club, is suing the Toronto Police Services Board and former chief Bill Blair for $23 million, alleging “abuse of power” and claiming police tried to push the club out of business.
In its statement of claim, the club alleges that police have been targeting it since January 2008, when 26-year-old Adam Fazio died in his home of an overdose.
In their statement of defence, the defendants deny the “inflammatory” allegations of “malice and misconduct” and request that the lawsuit be dismissed.
Toronto police had obtained information that Fazio visited the Comfort Zone hours before he died, prompting them to “investigate alleged … criminal activity,” according to the statement of defence. Police staged an undercover operation — Project White Rabbit — at the club on March 16, 2008, charging 33 patrons, including five staff members, after a 6:30 a.m. raid that netted $35,000 in cash and quantities of GHB, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy that police valued at $30,000.
No criminal charges were laid against management or the club itself.
The lawsuit alleges that officers destroyed video surveillance equipment and electronics, and kept scores of patrons and staff handcuffed for up to five hours.
None of the claims contained in the lawsuit have been proven in court.
The Comfort Zone claims in the documents that since the raid, Toronto police have been on a mission to close the establishment permanently. Officers searched the grounds at 480 Spadina Ave. and “generally intimidated” patrons more than 50 times over the past eight years, according to the lawsuit.
In its statement of claim, Comfort Zone says officers have also “harassed patrons and staff and encouraged them not to attend.”
The lawsuit ultimately alleges that police were “exercising their powers in bad faith,” amounting to unreasonable search or seizure with an aim “to permanently close down” the club.
The defendants countered in the statement of defence that police behaved “in a professional, competent and appropriate fashion” and deny that individual officers or the defendants “acted in bad faith.”
Any damages or loss the club suffered were “the result of their own conduct and the manner in which it operates its business,” the documents state.
The lawsuit, filed in February 2015, zeroes in on Bill Blair, police chief from 2005 to 2015 and now a member of parliament for Scarborough Southwest, for alleged negligence.
The police board stated in its defence in June 2015 that Blair is not responsible in law for actions by individual officers or for “establishing policies.”
Staff Supt. Mario Di Tommaso is named as a third defendant.
In an interview with the Star, Barry Swadron, the lawyer representing the Comfort Zone, said it “caters to that sector of the population who wish to listen to music, dance, eat and enjoy themselves after the closing hours of bars and nightclubs. Toronto is a world-class city and the after-hours community want and should have a place to go.
“Comfort Zone serves a useful purpose,” Swadron said. “It is located in the centre of the city. It is extremely careful to ensure that it complies with the laws and acceptable procedures relating to health, safety and security.”
“Rather than trying to shut it down, the Toronto police should live with Comfort Zone in a spirit of peaceful coexistence,” he added.
Toronto police spokesperson Const. Craig Brister said Sunday he could not offer further comment.
In 2009, Comfort Zone filed a similar lawsuit against the City of Toronto and Councillor Adam Vaughan, claiming $11 million, over what it alleged was a systematic harassment campaign aimed at putting it out of business.
The club, notorious for its sunset-to-sunrise dance parties, has not been without incident since Fazio’s death. In May 2014, an early morning stabbing sent a bouncer to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to police.
The club has been run for the past three decades by the Wynn Family Group, which also owns the adjacent Silver Dollar Room and Hotel Waverly as well as numerous apartment buildings, office spaces and a local fitness chain.