BC Liquor Enforcement: Even police officers can be bad witnesses
When you or your establishment has been served with a Notice of Enforcement Action, it can feel like the full weight of British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licensing regime, and its endless resources, are bearing down on you. Exacerbating matters, you may learn that police officers will be giving evidence for the prosecution. Despite your convictions, and your firm belief that the contravention alleged by the Branch did not occur, you may be tempted to sign a waiver notice – just to get the unpleasant process behind you. Resist this urge!
As the recent decision of the General Manager of the (then) Liquor Control and Licensing Branch in Re Days Inn, EH18-006 exemplifies, liquor inspectors and police officers do not always make good witnesses. Sometimes their evidence can be inconsistent and incomplete, forcing the Delegate hearing the matter to favour the evidence of the licensee and conclude that the alleged contravention has not been established. The decision in Re Days Inn can be read in full here.
On December 4, 2017 two on-duty RCMP officers sat in their patrol car near a Licensee Retail Store, the Days Inn (Inn of the West) in Terrace, BC.
“Officer 2” (as he is identified in the Branch’s reasons) observed a male cross the intersection and enter the LRS. Both officers then exited the police vehicle and observed the customer, through the LRS windows, purchase a 15 pack of Wildcat beer. When the customer exited the store, the police spoke with the customer and observed a high degree of intoxication.The officers concluded that the customer was intoxicated.
“Officer 1” subsequently entered the LRS, spoke with the clerk who sold the customer the beer, and asked that she refund the purchase. The clerk did, and the customer was allowed to continue home on his own accord. The clerk advised police she thought the customer merely had something wrong with his leg, and was not staggering from alcohol consumption.
Officer 2 wrote his report immediately after the incident. Officer 1 did not produce a written report of the incident until the following day. The local liquor inspector learned of the incident from Officer 1 at a hockey game later that same day. The liquor inspector attended the LRS on December 8 (four days after the incident) to speak with the LRS supervisor. On December 11 the liquor inspector, having now received the RCMP reports interviewed the LRS clerk, and issued a contravention notice to the licensee for selling liquor to an intoxicated person.
At first blush the facts in Re Days Inn are not particularly remarkable: the LRS employee denied selling alcohol to an intoxicated person, two police officers filed reports saying otherwise. However, upon closer examination, the Branch’s case against the licensee was plagued by the police officer’s poor note taking, contradictory evidence at the hearing, and tainted by the liquor inspector’s request that Officer 1 provide a supplemental report on December 27th.
The evidence of the police was as follows:
- Officer 1’s report, written the day after the incident, confirms observing a male known to police walking in a “staggering manner”. His first report also mentioned that the customer was in the presence of his sober brother.
- Officer 2’s evidence was that the customer was intoxicated and set out particulars of that intoxication in his report. However his evidence at the hearing was that the customer was alone (and not with his brother).
- Officer 1, at the request of the liquor inspector, authored a subsequent report on December 27th that included additional observations of the customer’s “physical symptomology” made by him through the LRS’s window while the customer was inside. The subsequent report contained additional information about glossy eyes, slurred speech and odour of liquor. Officer 1 was of the view that the customer was extremely intoxicated.
In dismissing the contravention, the General Manager’s Delegate Nerys Poole set out her concerns with the Branch’s evidence as follows:
- Officer 1’s first report did not mention any of the constellation of symptoms that Officer 2’s report contained about odour of liquor, heavily slurred speech and glassy eyes. Those details only appeared in Officer 1’s second report made three weeks later, and at the request of the liquor inspector.
- The Branch led inconsistent evidence about the “normal gait” of the customer. The liquor inspect testified he had known the customer for 18 years and that he always walks with a “shuffle.” The police officers testified to also being familiar with the customer, but that he had a perfectly normal gait when sober. This conflicting evidence from the Branch witnesses left the Delegate with doubt as to how the customer normally walks, and whether or not his gait could be evidence of his intoxication.
- Other points of conflict in the police officer’s evidence was whether or not the customer was alone, or with his brother, and whether or not he was “extremely intoxicated” or merely intoxicated simpliciter. Officers 1 and 2 gave differing evidence on each point.
While each of inconsistencies outlined above may not individually have been sufficient to undermine the Branch’s case against the LRS, the totality of the contradictions in the Branch’s evidence caused concern for Delegate Poole. When contrasted with the compelling evidence of the LRS store clerk on her training, and established practice of not serving intoxicated individuals, the General Manager’s Delegate had little choice but to dismiss the contravention allegations.
Liquor Control and Licensing Act contraventions related to intoxication turn significantly on the observations made by liquor inspectors, police officers, and sometimes other witnesses. When the reliability of those observations are in doubt, as they were in Re Days Inn, it is difficult for the General Manager’s Delegate to be satisfied that a contravention in fact occurred.
Re Days Inn is an important reminder to licensees to be cautious before signing a waiver notice – resist the urge to “plead guilty” before all the facts are known, and the Branch has made proper and fulsome disclosure of the case against you.
Being served with a Contravention Notice or Notice of Enforcement Action can be intimating especially when the police have been involved. Retaining counsel familiar with British Columbia’s liquor laws and the enforcement process can go a long way to ensuring your business makes an informed decision about signing a waiver notice, or proceeding to a hearing. If you have questions about this process please 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.