September 24, 2018 11:06 am
Updated: September 24, 2018 7:15 pm

Edmonton bar Nyala Lounge stripped of business licence

WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton lounge has had its business license revoked, but the reason why depends on who you ask. The city and police say it's because of concerns over public safety, but the owner is calling it discrimination. Sarah Kraus explains.

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A bar that pleaded guilty to overcrowding earlier this year has had its business licence cancelled, the City of Edmonton announced on Monday.

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A letter was issued by the city to strip Nyala Lounge of its licence on Sept. 19, after a recommendation from the Public Safety Compliance Team. The PSCT suggested the cancellation in the interest of “public and patron safety,” according to a news release from the city.

READ MORE: Deadly shooting in Old Strathcona spurs discussion on safety

Justin Lallemand, support manager for the PSCT, said they were first made aware of concerns stemming from Nyala Lounge in 2015. Over the next two years, he said police were called to the lounge for more than 22 reports of violence. Thirteen of those calls involved weapons — mainly firearms — he said.

“There’s been multiple injuries based on the violent incidents that occurred,” Lallemand said.

However, the PSCT said no charges were ever laid in any of those incidents.

READ MORE: 2 Edmonton bars, including Whyte Ave hot spot, fined for overcrowding

On June 14, the lounge was given conditions in order to continue operating. That included hiring certified and properly identified security staff, installing a metal detector and patron-scanning system, utilizing video surveillance and using a log book that recorded hourly patron counts and any major incidents.

Lallemand said 82 licence condition violations over 25 incidents were recorded between June and September.

Owner Mulugeta Tesfay says the ongoing investigations by both police and the PSCT are a result of racism and discrimination.

“The police don’t want to see a lot of black people around here,” he told Global News. “They think all black people are criminals.

“They don’t do this at white bars. They don’t do it on Whyte Avenue, they don’t do it at Jasper Avenue.”

READ MORE: Edmonton bars brace for assessments by accreditation program Best Bar None

Tesfay said he did receive a letter from the city suggesting they were going to pull his business licence unless he responded within 14 days. When he received the letter, he said he was home in Africa after the sudden death of his father.

The PSCT said there wouldn’t be any kind of extension in that case, but said Tesfay has 14 days from the day he lost his licence to appeal to the Community Standards and Licence Appeal Committee. The city said appealing will allow the lounge to stay open until the hearing.

Tesfay said he won’t be appealing because he can’t fight anymore.

“This is pure racism,” he said.

“If this place was criminal or this place was dangerous, I wouldn’t wait for the city, I would close it myself.”

He described his lounge as a place where people can go to meet friends and family, calling it “pretty much just a family place.”

Global News has never responded to or reported on violent incidents at Nyala Lounge. Lallemand said he couldn’t say why police had never issued a press release about the lounge but said they responded to one firearm complaint where shots were fired. He said they never found the gun.

Lallemand denied any claims that the ongoing investigation and searches of Nyala Lounge had anything to do with Tesfay’s race.

“It’s important to note that this is not based on just bylaw tickets, this is based on years of violent incidents that have occurred at Nyala Lounge. Twenty-two violent incidents, 13 of which involve weapons, mainly firearms,” he said. “There’s an extreme public risk and our investigations concluded that Nyala was not being operated in a fashion that could ensure public safety, community safety and patron safety.”

The interior of Nyala Lounge.

Sarah Kraus/Global News

Nyala Lounge was one of two bars that pleaded guilty to overcrowding in July.

The Ethiopian restaurant and lounge, located at 98 Street and 108 Avenue, received a $3,000 fine. Tesfay also received an additional $2,000 fine. That charge dates back to an overcrowding incident on March 5, 2017.

– With a file from Caley Ramsay, Global News

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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