Human Rights Code: Acceptable Identification

The bar and restaurant industry is fertile ground for Human Rights Code issues. While often these issues arise between management and staff, they can just as easily develop between bar staff and the public they serve.

Doormen, waitstaff and bartenders are routinely called on to exercise judgment and discretion in the performance of their job. From deciding who gets let into an establishment, to who gets served, and occasionally who gets cut-off, bar staff are constantly making decisions with potentially dramatic consequences. On a busy night a doorman checking ID or bartender serving drinks will make hundreds of these seemingly innocuous decisions over a period of a few short hours.

In the BC Human Rights Tribunal decision of Louie v. 50 Bourbon Pub/Bar (“Bourbon Pub”) the Tribunal considered the intersection of the requirements placed on licensed establishments under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act and the requirements of the Human Rights Code. The Act on the one hand requires all bar staff to be diligent in asking patrons for identification, scrutinizing that identification, and denying entry or service to any one who may not be 19 years of age or older, or is not able to produce valid identification. The Code simultaneously mandates that businesses do not without reasonable justification deny to a person accommodation or service customarily available to the public because of their race, religion or other prohibited ground.

At issue in Bourbon Pub was the decision of the doorman at the Bourbon Pub in Vancouver to deny entry to an aboriginal woman who attempted to use her Certificate of Indian Status (“CIS”) card for identification purposes.

The complainant felt that decision to deny her entry into the bar was discriminatory. She was an aboriginal woman being denied entry to an establishment by reason of presenting identification that not only confirmed that she was the age of majority, but also that she was a member of the Ucluelet First Nation.

The Bourbon’s position was that the decision to deny the complainant entry had nothing to do with her race or ancestry but rather was a decision based solely on concerns about the validity of the identification card she presented when she tried to enter. The doorman was not familiar with CIS cards, and was concerned it may not have been authentic. As a licensed establishment the Bourbon is under a positive duty to ensure that the Province’s liquor control legislation is properly enforced, and the Bourbon’s representative testified before the Tribunal that he would rather doormen err on the side of caution when faced with unfamiliar identification than allow a minor to enter the premises.

At the time of the Tribunal’s decision CIS cards did not contain holograms, computer coding or magnetic strips that one would expect to see on government issued identification. The commonly referenced “ID Checking Guide – United States & Canada Edition” at that time did not contain a sample CIS card.

The Tribunal found in the Bourbon Pub’s favour. The Tribunal Member was unable to conclude that that doorman refused the complainant entry in whole or in part because she was aboriginal.

While the bar in this instance was not found to have violated the Code it is a cautionary tale for management. Every time bar staff are required to exercise discretion, the possibility for abuse exists. Had the complainant in Bourbon Pub been turned away at the door because she did not meet the “dress code” for example, the result could have been much different.

*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.

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