Human Rights Code: Cross-Cultural Training for Bar Staff

As Alcohol & Advocacy has previously discussed, the bar and restaurant industry is fertile grounds for Human Rights complaints.

The Liquor Control and Licensing Act in British Columbia, and similar legislation in other provinces and territories, places a positive obligation on bar staff and retailers not serve or admit persons they believe to be intoxicated (see s.43 of the Act and ss. 74-75 of the New Act). These and other statutory requirements placed on licensees and their staff mandate that from time-to-time they deny to an individual “goods, services, accommodations or facilities that are customarily available to the public.” While this regime is not usually problematic, it can quickly become a very serious matter if the excluded or “cut-off” person alleges that the denial of goods or services was done on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

The very recent decision of the Northwest Territories Human Rights Adjudication Panel in Kahak v Liquor Shop illustrates that individuals working in a liquor retail environment, as opposed to a bar or restaurant, can also be subject to complaints of discrimination.

In Kahak the complainant was an aboriginal woman who was refused service at a liquor store in Yellowknife, NWT. The store clerk, Mr. Chong, advised Ms. Kahak that he believed she had been drinking and refused to serve her on that basis. Ms. Kahak subsequently filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging that she had been refused service on the basis of her race or ethnicity and therefore had been discriminated against contrary to the Human Rights Act of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Chong gave evidence before the tribunal that Ms. Kahak was intoxicated when she attempted to purchase alcohol, and that he arrived at that determination based on his workplace training and the guidelines in the Techniques of Alcohol Management manual. Mr. Chong observed that Ms. Kahak smelled like alcohol, was in a hurry and was not answering his questions.

The tribunal found that there was no evidence the complainant had been refused service based on her racial or ethnic background, and therefore dismissed the complaint. However, licensees should take note that the issue of “cross-cultural training” arose during the hearing.  It was put to Mr. Chong during the hearing that his evaluation of the complainant could have been caused by a “misunderstanding” of her culture. Mr. Chong denied that this was a factor. The adjudicator in his reasons observed that NWT’s Liquor Commission may wish to examine mandating training on cross-cultural issues when liquor policies are examined next.

While there is no indication that British Columbia will be mandating “cross-cultural training” for individuals who serve or sell liquor in the near future, proactive managers ought to consider raising issues of cultural sensitivity with their staff at regularly scheduled compliance meetings.

If your establishment requires assistance preparing materials to train staff on Human Rights, Employment or Liquor Control and Licensing Act issues 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.

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.