The Rules 

Liquor Branch spells out enforcement strategy

Gray areas in liquor laws become more black and white with new terms and conditions

In the past, the liquor industry in B.C. has been largely self-regulating. Bars and pubs would snitch on one another or the RCMP would issue a ‘bar slip’, and the matter would be passed on to a board at the provincial liquor distribution branch. The liquor branch would then investigate the charge and decide on a penalty.

There was no consistency in enforcement or in the penalties associated with liquor offences, and tensions between bar owners increased with the absence of a level playing field. None of them had any objection to a new set of rules and enforcement guidelines providing that they were applied equally to all bars and restaurants.

After some public consultation with bar owners, the government responded with A Guide for Liquor Licensees in British Columbia: Terms and Conditions of a Liquor License – a comprehensive overview of a revamped compliance and enforcement program. The entire process is spelled out.

According to Liquor Control and Licensing Branch general manager Thea Vakil, "It provides you with information regarding the branch’s enforcement program, your responsibility to operate your establishment in a lawful manner, and the possible consequences if you do not. It imposes terms and conditions on your license that are in addition to those found in the Liquor Control and Licensing Act and Regulations."

Locally, a liquor inspector was hired to implement the new guidelines, and by all reports inspector Allan Andrews has performed the task diligently – some say a little too diligently.

While the RCMP has always issued bar slips to local drinking establishments, with the addition of a liquor inspector, the number of slips issued has increased. Last weekend, the RCMP issued five slips to four different establishments for offences that include over capacity, allowing patrons to leave a licensed area, allowing someone to consume alcohol after bar hours, and employees consuming.

As a result of this diligence, local drinking establishments have held meetings to discuss the negative impact that so much enforcement is having on their businesses.

For their part, the RCMP say they are doing nothing but enforcing the laws that are on the books, and that the liquor license holders themselves established. They have always conducted walk-throughs of licensed establishments.

"Five slips at four different establishments is quite a few for a weekend, but it’s not as indicative of an increase in enforcement as it is of a problem we may have," says RCMP Community Policing Officer Ray Bernoties.

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