Large underground party broken up by police in southeast Edmonton
EDMONTON -- Police estimate about 200 people took part in an illegal party in southeast Edmonton early Sunday.
CTV News Edmonton arrived on scene as an armada of officers pulled up to Ellwood Corner, a business plaza in Edmonton's southeast Ellerslie neighbourhood around midnight.
As they did, partygoers scattered until all that was left were the police who had been tipped off about an underground gathering, stragglers who hadn't clued in to the "mass exodus" minutes earlier, and a confused driver or two whose customers no longer needed a ride.
"I don't even know what's going on, to be honest," one said, standing at the back of the business strip. Police lights flashed around him.
Several times, police pounded on the back entrance of a business in the plaza. Every now and then, those who opened the door would be pulled out into the lot and told they were being detained under the Public Health Act.
"We just came here because someone invited us for someone's birthday, so we weren't even supposed to be here tonight," one maskless person told police.
A man who stopped to speak briefly to CTV News Edmonton said, "So what the cops are doing is, everybody that ran away can get away, but anybody who's inside gets a fine. Does that make sense to you?"
He asked, "The right thing to do is stay, right? And I stayed."
But he grew hostile when asked if he had been wearing a mask inside.
'THERE WAS NOT EVEN 80': CO-OWNER
Edmonton Police Service received a tip of an "after-hours club going on in a different type of business," according to Staff Sgt. Tom Paton on scene.
"Upon arrival, there was a mass exodus of approximately 200 – we believe – patrons."
That's disputed by one of Khrome Beauty Lounge's owners, who says they rented their space to private groups of 15 people.
"I had an employee present there and I asked her and she said there was not 200 people," Farida Hussaini told CTV News Edmonton on Monday.
"She's a witness to the party and she said that's because they were banging on the back door. And so clearly the people that wanted this private event didn't comply with the rules that were in place."
According to Hussaini's employee, there were 50 people at most.
"There was not even 80, 100. So how could it reach 200? That is a lie," Hussaini said.
"People just got scared and they all just ran away and scattered everywhere so the police couldn't really count exactly how many people were exactly in the premises. I think they're just saying a number they think was right."
At home that night, Hussaini says she called 911 when the store's security alarm continued to go off and claims the operator told her police had already arrived.
"Someone called the cops and I'm thankful someone did because people left as soon as they showed up."
NOT THE FIRST TIME
Hussaini and her husband own 50 per cent of the Ellerslie nail bar, which shares a brand with sister locations in downtown Edmonton and Leduc. All three locations are partly owned by a pair of sisters, according to Hussaini.
"I discussed it with my business partner about this and she was like, 'Yes, we have to do something with the business because we're not making money.'"
Hussaini says she and Ona Jetishi signed a lease at the Rohit development just over a year ago, and couldn't open until September after construction finished.
Hussaini called running Khrome Beauty Lounge and turning a profit large enough to cover their $10,000/month rent a "stressful ride" – and what drove them to begin to offer private bookings just two weeks earlier.
"It was just mainly within our like, you know, like, friends of friends. Mutual people who needed a place for a small birthday gathering," Hussaini told CTV News Edmonton, declining to name who made the bookings. "It was literally harmless. It was 15 people, max. It went smoothly the first weekend, everything was complied, everybody was social distancing, there was masks being worn."
But in a statement, Jetishi apologized for careless and reckless behavior that does "not represent Khrome's values," and denied involvement in the March 6 gathering, adding, “We will be working closely with our legal team to ensure action is taken against these partners at this sole location.”
Both sides of the business arrangement described their relationship as fraught with issues.
POLICE CONSULTING ALBERTA HEALTH SERVICES
According to Paton, Khrome and those in the crowd that filled it could face charges related to violating Alberta's COVID-19 restrictions.
On Monday, EPS said officers had taken the ID of those left at the party and were consulting with Alberta Health Services and the City of Edmonton about what to do next.
Paton called the Saturday scene "more than a little" disheartening.
"There's no reason for this," he told CTV News Edmonton that night.
"I just hope going forward the patrons tonight take the public's health and their own health into consideration before doing something like this."
In other provinces, partiers have been fined for similar public health order infractions. Most recently, three dozen people were ticketed $1,550 for staying at a Quebec ski chalet. Another $17,000 in fines were issued in relation to a Vancouver makeshift nightclub in February.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's David Ewasuk