The alternative to bars and clubs for many in Toronto on a Friday night are shisha lounges, a place for socializing and downtime for many of the city’s people of color, especially those within the Middle Eastern and East African communities.
But that won’t be the case for long, the City of Toronto announced a new bylaw that bans indoor shisha smoking.
In its first phase of enforcement by Toronto Public Health, the ban has many frustrated.
“Other than [this ban] affecting all of the existing businesses, it’s an attack on culture,” said Ali, a Lebanese-Canadian owner of a shisha bar in Toronto, in an interview with fader.
“I don’t see anything bad about shisha compared to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol,” he continued, pointing out how alcohol consumption has been linked to many health concerns, but remains a widely normalized cultural practice.
A spokesperson for TPH said the ban was in place to avoid the increase of shisha consumption amongst youth. But many of these shisha lounges are only for those of legal age.
Remarks made recently by Toronto police linking shisha culture to increased violence has also sparked discussion by many on the criminalization of black diasporas and their cultural practices, particularly of Somali-Canadians.
As the bylaw approaches its final phase of enforcement in July, many shisha lounge owners fear being run out of business.
“Where else is there for us in this city?” asks Ali.