By Lexy Benedict and Olivia Scarangella
Last Sept. 8, Valentina Pranjić, Sophie Puzzo and Nikoletta Wood did what many post-secondary students do. They headed out to the REBEL nightclub, a popular Toronto venue that’s open on Fridays and Saturdays.
Wood had heard the rumours surrounding phone theft at REBEL. So, the Ryerson University student decided to take extra precautions that night and removed the zipper handles off her purse to make it more difficult for thieves.
It was around 11 p.m when the girls arrived at 11 Polson St. The club was already very crowded, which is normal, especially for a Saturday night.
Puzzo’s and Pranjić’s iPhones were safely stored in Pranjić’s clutch. But after heading to the dance floor, the students noticed a group of guys surrounding them.
“I didn’t think anything of it just because usually when you’re a big group of girls, it’s not uncommon for guys to surround you,” said Pranjić.
However, later that night the girls discovered that both Puzzo’s iPhone 7+ and Pranjić’s brand new iPhone X were missing.
Wood’s Samsung Galaxy S6 also went missing. They scoured the club, searching for Pranjić’s and Puzzo’s phones.
“As I’m coming back, this guy runs into me full on and as I’m in the middle of apologizing to him, two other guys start talking to me, hollering [at me]. It was just such an overwhelming situation,” said 20-year-old Wood.
When they went to security to report all of their phones had been stolen, they learned this was a common occurrence at REBEL.
“I said, ‘All three of my friends just had our phones stolen,’” said Wood. “He starts laughing, and tells me, ‘You’re not going to find your phone. We’ve already had 30 phones reported tonight. They’re gone, there’s no way for us to find them. Sorry.’”
The security guard told Wood that hers was one of the 30 phones reported stolen that night to him alone.
A BIGGER ISSUE
Since opening in 2016, REBEL has had a reputation of being one of the most popular nightclubs in Toronto, often hosting events featuring the likes of Travis Scott, Drake and Cardi B.
As the largest nightclub in Toronto — with the capacity to host over 4,500 people a night — chaos is inevitable.
While there are no statistics on phone thefts at the venue, a quick search on Google suggests the number is high, with many people posting about having similar experiences to Wood, Pranjić and Puzzo.
NOT THE ONLY ONE
Nicole Di Novo was at REBEL nightclub on New Year’s Eve two years ago, when her phone was stolen in a matter of seconds.
“I paid for my drink, put my change away and my phone was gone,” said Di Novo. She said the bartender told her she hadn’t seen anyone take the phone.
“I got my phone stolen five minutes into being at the club. I was with a group of 10 girls, and the majority of us got our phones stolen that night,” said the 22-year-old. “When we were looking for my friend’s phone, we looked on the floor, and saw her phone case.”
When Emily Mazzeo, 24, got her phone stolen a year ago, she saw the thief and tried to follow him but couldn’t get past all the people. She believes that theft at REBEL is easy because of the crowds.
“I had been to REBEL before for a concert. You can barely move around on a Saturday night,” said Mazzeo.
This crowding causes issues that surpass just phone theft. REBEL has also been under fire for multiple incidents, like shootings and overdoses. In a 2018 article by the Toronto Star, police said they have been growing more concerned with public safety at REBEL.
However, according to Toronto police media relations officer, Const. Caroline de Kloet, police do not have enough information on cellphone theft at REBEL, nor the resources to investigate.
“We don’t have the staffing to go through hours and hours of videos for reports of allegedly stolen cellphones,” de Kloet said.
It’s difficult to review security footage for nightclubs like REBEL, because of the large number of attendees and dark lighting.
When Pranjić filed a police report for her stolen phone, de Kloet said that due to the circumstances, there wasn’t much they could do.
Pranjić said that this was a response she expected.
“The cop told me that the only way I would ever get my phone back was if someone was in police custody, checked in the phone, and they see that it is a match to a phone reported as stolen,” said Pranjić. “The likelihood of that happening, she told me, was very slim.”
In a statement to the Ryersonian, REBEL said that they are aware of the pickpocketing issue that has been affecting their venue and its patrons.
“Across the city, pickpocketing has been on the rise and unfortunately, our venue has been impacted by the issue. We are doing everything we can to make sure our guests and their belongings leave as they came,” read the statement. “We have communicated this to customers and we are working with local authorities to mitigate the issue. We encourage customers to exercise caution and to say something if they see something.”
REBEL has also been actively responsive to Google Reviews about this issue.
REBEL has also posted a notice on its website’s homepage, which warns customers of the phone thefts occurring in the club.
The notice reads “Secure your smartphone,” followed by a paragraph that explains they are aware of the issue, and what do if it happens.
REBEL REMAINS A HOTSPOT
While it’s a concern for many, it’s clear that phone theft doesn’t stop REBEL from being a favourite venue when compared to other Toronto clubs.
Martin Mystery, 24, is a promoter for REBEL nightclub and says that it provides an experience that no other Toronto club can.
“The capacity sets it apart; it’s much bigger than most clubs. There’s always thousands of people, and the crowd is really diverse,” said Mystery. “It’s really geographically diverse. You have people coming in from the States, Europe [and] Asia, because everyone knows that REBEL is the place to go to.”
Even though Mystery has had a few people say that they won’t return to the club after getting their phone stolen, there are still many people saying they would go back and just be extra careful.
Puzzo and Wood said that they would still go to REBEL for a concert, but not for a nightclub experience.
“The thing is, REBEL is the only place where a lot of artists that you love are going to show up,” said Wood.
However, Pranjić said she doesn’t see herself returning to REBEL anytime soon.
”I honestly hate REBEL. I haven’t been back since my whole phone fiasco,” said Pranjić, “I really don’t like the vibes there.”
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
While many blame REBEL for lacking proper security measures, partiers recognize they can take extra precautions.
“I also blame myself for not being as cautious,” said Wood.
De Kloet said it’s important to be smart when attending any nightclub in the city.
“When you’re at a club it’s important that you keep an eye on your valuables and property,” said de Kloet. “You don’t need to bring your entire wallet, just bring what you need.”