BC’s Liquor Law Commissions of the 20th Century

“It would be a simple task to draft legislation for the distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages if all our citizens were self-disciplined and moderate users, but such is not the case, and this is amply supported by the incontrovertible knowledge that all civilised countries find it necessary and desirable to enact restrictive and disciplinary laws for its control”- Report of the British Columbia Liquor Inquiry Commission 1952

When John Yap’s Report was presented in 2014 the government declared “we promised British Columbians and the industry that we would modernize B.C.’s liquor laws, and we’ve followed through on that commitment.” The government kept its promise – but it was hardly a new one. Since the turn of the 20th century successive governments have made the same promise to “modernize” liquor laws in British Columbia. Though the promise to voters has remained constant,  Alcohol & Advocacy is pleased to confirm that the outcomes have continued to improve. Accordingly the Yap Report entered the history books alongside an illustrious host of  earlier liquor policy reviews and inquiries, including the Stevens Report (1952), Morrow Report (1970) and Jansen Report (1987).

With all the attention liquor laws and policy are receiving in British Columbia and across Canada these days it’s easy to believe we are living in the golden age of liquor law reform. Though that sentiment is probably true, and the reforms of recent years in BC have been well received, the liquor policy reports of bygone eras blazed the trail legislators today are passing through. When the Stevens Report recommended that the government license restaurants to sell beer and wine by the glass, or the Morrow Report recommended permitting women to serve alcohol – British Columbians at that time probably thought they were living in a radical and progressive era.

The liquor law inquiries of the last century are a treasure trove of commentary, facts and analysis that confirm the frustrations licensees face today are not dissimilar to the ones faced by their predecessors 60 years earlier. Each successive report concludes with the recommendation to government to overhaul, or at the very least reform, the status quo of government licensing and retailing. The history of liquor law reform in this province suggests that in another 20 years British Columbian’s can expect a new report criticizing the Yap Report for not going far enough, and recommending a new program of incremental changes to the way liquor is manufactured and sold in the province.

In the coming weeks and months Alcohol & Advocacy will post a new series of articles that examine the policy concerns and recommendations of earlier reports, comparing and contrasting them with subsequent inquiries and British Columbia’s current regime. Stay tuned.

*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.

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.