A&A Year in Review 2021

Alcohol & Advocacy Year in Review 2021

2021 proved to be another banner year for blink-and-you’ll-miss-it changes to the liquor law landscape. Alcohol & Advocacy frequently describes the liquor laws in British Columbia, and across Canada, as “dynamic” and that remains very much the case.

COVID continued to drive the bus as far as policy changes by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch are concerned. COVID was also responsible for certain, shall we say stubborn, licensees becoming “former licensees”. This year we also saw some notable names in the trade, Burrowing Owl and Fets Whisky Kitchen, involved in contested court applications that may result in a winery and some whisky changing hands – albeit in very different circumstances.

24 New Liquor and Cannabis Policy Directives.

As at the time of writing (and the year isn’t over just yet!), the Branch has published 24 new policies this year – being a combination of new initiatives, revisions to old initiatives, and making permanent what were previously temporary authorizations. For some context, last year there were 28 new policies, whereas in the pre-COVID years the numbers were significantly lower (12 in 2019, 8 in 2018 and only 5 in 2017!).

The highlights include:

Directive 21-04 made permanent the authorization for food primary (restaurants) and liquor primary (bars and clubs) licensees to sell and deliver packaged liquor to patrons with the purchase of a meal for off-site consumption.

Unfortunately, ABLE BC is hearing “increasing reports of some licensees not abiding by the conditions of these directives.” Licensees would do well to listen to ABLE, and follow the wording of the policy directive. When in doubt, contact counsel.

Directive 21-14 was a new policy to permit food primary and liquor primary licensees to package and sell single serving mixed drinks (cocktails), that must contain both liquor and non-liquor ingredients, for off-site consumption with the purchase of a meal.

Directive 21-15 authorized specific private liquor retailers to sell liquor products to Special Event Permit (SEP) holders. Previously if you wanted to host a special event in BC (think a wedding) you had to buy your liquor from a government liquor store or a manufacturer – now you can buy from licensee retail stores (private liquor stores).

Directive 21-20 pushed out the moratorium on the issuance of new licensee retail store licences (private liquor store licences) to 2032! The Branch says that extending this moratorium, that was set to expire July, 2022, by another decade will help “protect public health” and “maintain the stability” of the retail liquor sector. Maybe it will. But what about innovation and competition?

Court Proceedings

Fets Fine Foods Ltd. v British Columbia (Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch)

Scotch whisky fans and industry observers will recall that in January, 2018 Fets Whisky Kitchen was the target of a warrantless search & seizure whereby liquor inspectors seized 242 bottles of Scotch Malt Whisky Society cask-strength single malt whisky worth almost $40,000.

In the intervening years Fets has been working its way through the Compliance and Enforcement process. Earlier this year its application for document production from the Branch was dismissed. You can read those reasons for judgment here.

On December 9th and 10th its petition for judicial review of the earlier Reconsideration Decision, which upheld the validity of the raid and the associated fine, was heard before a judge of the BC Supreme Court. That decision is now under reserve.

Kruger v Wild Goose Vintners Inc.

In July Mr. Justice Gomery of the BC Supreme Court approved Burrowing Owl Vineyard’s purchase of Wild Goose Vintners winery. The sale was negotiated by Wild Goose’s court appointed receiver the Bowra Group. That decision can be read here.

Ignoring the COVID guidelines can cost you your licence!

Lastly, but certainly not least, two recent decisions of the BC Supreme Court (and a related decision by a Delegate of the General Manager) confirm that licensed establishments in BC who continue to serve food & beverage while ignoring or flouting the applicable COVID health guidelines will be exposing themselves to more than just the virus – injunctive relief, cost consequences and rescinded liquor and business licences are all on the menu.

So. What’s in store for the New Year?

If you or your business are facing enforcement action by the Branch, need assistance with licensing issues, or general advice on navigating British Columbia’s maze of liquor laws and regulations contact Dan Coles at Owen Bird.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel

*The author of Alcohol & Advocacy is a shareholder of Owen Bird Law Corporation which is counsel for both Burrowing Owl and Fets Whisky Kitchen.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.