Unity under scrutiny: Troubling reports cast shadow over Montreal queer nightclub

Allegations of bouncer aggression, mishandling of incidents and staff misconduct spark boycott and calls for accountability

On Nov. 5 social media posts were shared to push forth a boycott of Club Unity. Photo Abby Cole

Montreal’s Gay Village is supposedly a place for LGBTQIA2S+ folks to enjoy themselves openly. One of its most popular nightclubs, Club Unity, is well known amongst Montreal’s younger demographic—both queer and straight.

The club’s website describes itself as “an inclusive club open to all,” and that “with respect as a core value, Unity prides itself on providing a safe environment.”

On Nov. 5, Concordia anthropology student Clara Meagher made an Instagram post calling for a boycott of the club.

“Unity claims to be a safe, queer space for its patrons, and yet recurring events have proven otherwise,” claims Meagher in the post. It includes screenshots from the club’s Google reviews accusing the bouncers of assaulting patrons amongst other accusations. 

The post has received 1,288 likes and over 90 comments from people expressing sympathy and similar stories of harassment at the club. 

Meagher and her friends have also taken their campaign to the streets. The group distributed flyers outside the club reading “Before heading into Club Unity, please read” and listed accusations made against the club including that security has been accused of assault, and that the owner ignores claims of abuse and belittles victims.

Alleged Bouncer Violence 

On Google, there are many reviews related to Unity’s bouncer aggression and use of force.

The Link spoke to Mathieu Drapeau, the club’s owner. 

“The fact is, it's a nightclub […] sometimes people are under the influence,” he said. “Sometimes that’s where people don’t understand there are some rules to follow. It’s not a public place. It’s a private place.”

According to Drapeau, Unity’s security agents receive a Bureau de la Sécurité Privée (BSP) license after participating in a course where they are taught “how to deal with people.”

“The rules are you cannot drink alcohol from outside, you cannot use drugs, you cannot do sexual acts inside, you cannot be violent with people. So if you do that, we ask people to leave,” Drapeau said. 

First alleged incident

Meagher’s post features a Google review posted by Ana Luiza Marques. It reads, “I went with my friend tonight and the bouncer just threw her on the floor […] The worst place I’ve ever been. It’s not a safe space, don’t go there. Never.” 

The post also includes a video of a patron being aggressively pushed out of the club by a bouncer.

The Link spoke with Drapeau about the incident. He said “it was after closing and that guy was hurt [and] the girl pulled his rasta.” 

Drapeau responded to Marques’ review, arguing that she and her friends had been blocking the exit after the club’s closing. Apparently, the security agent had asked for them to move but they became aggressive. That is when she allegedly scratched him and pulled out his hair. 

The Link viewed images presented by Drapeau, which are also linked in his Google response, of the security guard from the video with bruising and scratches across his forehead, and a long dreadlock on the floor. The Link cannot confirm these images are from the same incident.

Second alleged incident

Andres, a friend of Meagher, alleges that his sister was assaulted by staff after her friend lost her coat check number chip and attempted to re-enter the club. 

“My friends and I started to head to the back area of the coat check so we wouldn’t block the doorway,” alleges Andres’ sister in a testimony provided to The Link. “When suddenly this man stood in front of me and started yelling that I had to leave.” 

“These other two guys started to grab me and push me towards the stairs. I had three guys touching me inappropriately,” the sister added. After the incident, Andres told The Link that his sister informed him that a security guard grabbed her breast.

“One of them had his hands wrapped tightly around my wrist. I felt vulnerable,” explained Andres’ sister, “I remember telling them that I didn’t want to go wait for my friends on the street because, as a woman, I feel unsafe. And they told me to go be a girl on the streets as they touched me inappropriately. After that, I quickly left and the famous abusive security guard at the door pushed me as I walked out.”

In response to this story, Drapeau admits that he was there for this incident. 

Drapeau claims that the woman was blocking the way into the club, and another employee told her she can go inside the club to wait until 3 a.m. According to Drapeau, she refused to move, prompting him to escort her out. 

In security footage provided by Drapeau, the woman appears to attempt to re-enter the club, but then is blocked by club staff. She is then pulled back towards the staircase by Drapeau who wraps his arm around her neck, pulling her backwards. The Link has confirmed that this footage is of the same incident.

Concordia students preparing to hand out ‘Before heading into Club Unity, please read’ flyers at the metro near the nightclub. Photo Abby Cole

Mishandling of alleged overdose

A Concordia student alleges her boyfriend had a drink spiked with an illegal substance at Unity, resulting in an overdose and hospitalization. 

In retrospect, she said “I’ve only seen him like this one other time, when he had been drugged.” She noted that she thought the drink looked cloudy but assumed it was a dirty glass.

“I’ve seen that with people with Benzos and Xanax and stuff like that. [My boyfriend] has not used any sort of substance, even weed, for years. He’s only been drinking," she added.

Outside the club her boyfriend was placed on the sidewalk. Allegedly, another man from the club, who she believes to be the owner, arrived on the scene but left shortly after.

He had small pupils,  cold and clammy skin, slow and weak breathing, as well as an inability to wake up, which are all signs of an opioid overdose, according to Health Canada. She called an ambulance and he was brought to hospital. The paramedics and attending nurses agreed that it could have been an overdose but a toxicology test never took place. 

One of their friends spoke with another employee from the club, who asked “what have you guys been taking tonight?” They responded “we’ve been drinking and maybe a bit of weed.” The woman allegedly said “well, that’s what happens when you mix weed and alcohol,” and left.

“There was no responsibility or accountability. She was trying to come up with an excuse to brush off a [drugging] incident […] completely ignoring the fact my friend was unconscious on the floor,” said the student’s friend. Allegedly, only one bouncer had been helpful, assisting the student and her boyfriend out of the club. 

“I would love to see them take fucking responsibility for all the shit that’s happened there,” added the student.

“I’m here every night and I’m on the walkie talkie, so whenever there is a situation, I’ve been called. I wouldn't let someone die,” explained Drapeau. “When someone is secure, once everything seems okay, I’m out of it.” 

“Sorry if you dealt with that,” Drapeau continued. “I haven't seen drugs for a long time […] I'm fully against drugs.”


Former staff

The Link spoke to a former dancer and bartender at Club Unity.

The dancer alleges that a manager yelled at her and another dancer in front of customers for taking too much time to cool down on the bar’s rooftop.

“[The manager] told us to take our things and go [...] and while we were going out, she pushed my dancer friend, and the bouncer pushed her aside so she wouldn’t go back in.” 

The dancer also alleges that she was paid “under the table.”

However, according to Drapeau, the processes to maintain alcohol permits and venue licenses means that a lot of time is spent making sure everything is happening legally. “The level of investment that we need to put into making sure everything is legal wouldn’t allow us to have people paid under the table.” 

The bartender alleges that she was underpaid and never received pay stubs, which is why she eventually quit. She had to file a complaint to the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail when they refused to give her the last pay stub. After she filed the complaint, she was eventually paid by Unity. 

Drapeau explained to The Link that the problem is staff treating the job like partying rather than work. “We need a worker, we don’t need a partier, so if you want to receive a salary, then you need to work and you need to follow some rules.”


Growing disapproval

In response to the growing disapproval of the bar and boycott campaign, Drapeau says that he believes it is a change in the customer base. 

“People think ‘I’m way better than you’ or ‘I’m way better than the place.’ So ‘it's a privilege for you to host me’ […] But it’s not,” said Drapeau. “It’s a privilege to come into the club. It’s not about one bad experience. It’s also about the fact that like 99.9 per cent of the people who come here […] tell me ‘what a night, it was wonderful.’” 

Despite the boycott and poor reviews, Drapeau is not worried about the club’s reputation. “I do have a customer base. I mean, the club is packed every weekend,” he claims.


Club Safety and Accountability

The Link asked Drapeau about what he is doing to ensure safety at the club: 

“I think it’s mostly about educating people. I just bought a lot of signs about how to behave, how to react, and what we’re going to do. Like a possible body check in the lineup.” Drapeau also thought about handing out cards to customers explaining the rules of the club.

“It’s more about educating people about how to behave inside,” Drapeau said.  

He adds that he wants to make security more visible, so that if a customer needs help they are easier to find. 

Drapeau also showed The Link a Ziploc bag of pocket knives and pepper spray that he alleges was collected by security the past two weekends at the door. 

Pepper spray is a prohibited weapon under Canadian law

However, for Meagher, Unity needs a rebranding, and the ownership needs to work on themselves before it can open again. 

“Because not only are they not taking accountability for what’s happening,” she adds, “but they’re making themselves seem like the victims and belittling the people who lived those traumatic experiences.”

In a statement submitted to The Link by Queer Concordia, they expressed that “the reports of violence and abuses of power by some staff members are deeply troubling. It is disheartening to witness the transformation of what was once a safe space into an environment that disrespects its patrons.”

“We earnestly look forward to a future where more [LGBTQIA2S+] spaces prioritize the well-being of their guests," wrote Queer Concordia. “Our hearts go out to anyone who has been hurt and disrespected, and we want you to know that your community stands with you.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 7, published November 28, 2023.