Musicians abandon Smiling Buddha following sexual assault accusation

Nearly a dozen shows have been relocated from the College Street music venue after one of the club's owners was arrested in February

Nearly a dozen shows at Smiling Buddha have been relocated and many others are in the process of finding new venues following an allegation of sexual assault against one of the bar’s owners.

Lucan Wai was arrested and charged with one count of sexual assault in February, Toronto Police confirmed on Tuesday.

When contacted by NOW, Wai maintained his innocence and alleged he was being extorted by his accuser before his arrest. He referred all further questions to his lawyer.

When reached via an intermediary, the accuser declined to comment because the matter is before the court.

Police would not comment on the precise details of the allegations, which have not been proven in court.

The news has led the venue’s booking manager to quit, and promoters for Collective Concerts, Canadian Music Week and Venus Fest scrambling to move shows. 

“I heard about it a few weeks ago from Lucan’s brother, Clement [Wai]. They own Smiling Buddha together,” says Matt Sandrin. “The moment I knew, I was like, ‘Oh shit, what am I going to do?’”

Located on College (near Dovercourt), Smiling Buddha is one of a handful of venues in the city to feature live music nearly every night of the week. Its two stages have provided a platform for hundreds of emerging musicians, from punk bands to electronic producers. 

Until last week, Sandrin was the booking manager and lead talent buyer at Smiling Buddha, where he was employed for over three years. He quit because of the accusation against Wai and is in the process of moving around 30 shows he had booked to other venues.

“I’m out of a job right now and it sucks, but I believe I’m doing what’s right,” he adds.

Before quitting, Sandrin consulted Dan Burke, a veteran concert promoter who has booked many shows at Smiling Buddha. They tried to organize a formal group meeting, Burke says, where Wai would be encouraged to withdraw from active management until his court case had been resolved.

“That meeting didn’t happen,” Burke says. “I tried for the sake of the staff and well-being of the venue.”

Like Sandrin, Burke has also spent the past week relocating most of his shows, including one featuring Calvin Love, Sunshine & The Blue Moon and Johnny de Courcy, which will now take place March 24 at Owls Club. He’s been calling musicians and explaining the situation. In some cases, bands have chosen to stay.

NOBRO, an all-female band from Montreal, is scheduled to headline Smiling Buddha on March 30. Burke contacted all four acts on the bill with the option to cancel.

“All the bands have agreed to continue with the show – for now,” he says. “I told them that the person in question would not be at the club during the show and my door person Maggie Smith, club manager Brian Renton and myself would assure the space remains safe.”

Smooches, an all-women Oakville act opening for NOBRO, are going ahead with the show because they’re comfortable with the agreement and no bands backed out.

“We said yes because we trust Dan,” says bassist Jenna Gardiner. “Our first Toronto show was at Smiling Buddha last November. To find out that a place we’ve been welcomed into and that introduced us into Toronto’s music scene has an owner like that is pretty disappointing.”

Gardiner adds she’s certain this will be Smooches’ last show at the venue.

Other promoters aren’t taking any chances. Venus Fest, a feminist music festival and promoter, moved their March 17 show: bands Pill, Eyeballs and Baby Cages will now perform at Burdock Warehouse.

A number of shows run by Collective Concerts have also been relocated, including upcoming concerts by Screaming Females, Idles, Kyle Craft, Soccer Mommy, Kelley Stoltz, Current Joys, Olden Yolk and Shame.

CMW had its Double Denim Showcase featuring Beauts, Billy Moon, Jaunt, Mauno, WHOOP-Szo and Possum originally scheduled for Smiling Buddha on May 10. That show has now been moved to the Garrison.

Sandrin expects more shows will leave Smiling Buddha as word gets out.

“A space that’s associated with any kind of allegations where the abuser isn’t being accountable at all, it’s uncomfortable for me, my artists and the people who want to come out for a show – especially survivors of abuse,” he says. “It’s an unsafe space.”

Wai previously owned Mirvish Village venue The Central, which closed after 10 years in January 2017. He shifted focus to Smiling Buddha, which he took over three and a half years ago.

Update: On March 14, Lucan Wai posted this public statement on his Facebook page. | @michdas

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