Liquor Law Complaint

Licensees Beware: BC’s Liquor & Cannabis Regulation Branch Complaint Process

The Liquor & Cannabis Regulation Branch makes a point of inspecting all licensed establishments in BC at least once or twice a year with higher risk establishments being inspected more frequently. As there are considerably more licensed establishments and special events in BC then there are liquor inspectors, the Branch must allocate its resources to ensure that the time liquor inspectors spend in the field is used efficiently. Accordingly, establishments without compliance history (a history of contravening the Liquor Control and Licensing Act) or significant complaint history (the Branch tracks the number and types of complaints it receives against an establishment) are treated as a low priority for inspection.

Alcohol & Advocacy regularly publishes content about Liquor Act contraventions and penalties, but has not devoted much attention to the Liquor & Cannabis Regulation Branch Complaint Process, which you can read more about here.

Too many licensees do not become engaged with the management and operation of their establishments until after they have received a Notice of Contravention or Enforcement Action – by that point it may be too late to prevent receiving a monetary penalty or licence suspension.

Diligent licensees should understand that satisfying a liquor inspector during his or her annual visit does not necessarily mean you won’t see them again until next year. A complaint made against your establishment – which could come from a disgruntled employee, a customer, or local government official – can quickly return the Branch’s focus to your operation, and may result in more frequent and in-depth inspections. The Branch considers complaints of alleged contraventions from police, other agencies, and the public a “useful source of evidence and information for inspectors.”

The Complaint Process

The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch may (its discretionary) investigate complaints from the public or industry about matters related to the regulation of liquor and non-medical cannabis in the province of British Columbia.  Unless a complaint relates to an immediate public safety concern, all complaints must be submitted to the Branch in writing.

Within 30 days of receiving a complaint, the Branch will send a letter to the complainant acknowledging the Branch’s receipt of the complaint along with an indication of whether or not it has been accepted for investigation.

The Branch may decide not to investigate a complaint if any of the following apply:

  • more than six months has elapsed between the date the complainant knew the facts on which the complaint is based and the date the branch received the complaint
  • there is a remedy available in law (the complaint is outside the branch’s mandate under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act or the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act) that is adequate for the complainant and there is no reasonable justification for the complainant’s failure to take advantage of the remedy
  • the complaint is deemed to be frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith
  • further investigation is not necessary in order to consider the complaint
  • the complaint has already been investigated; or
  • the complainant did not provide sufficient information or evidence to substantiate the complaint and warrant an investigation

The Branch’s position is that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, does not  permit it to comment on the findings or actions in the investigation of a complaint.

A complainant who receives notification that the Branch did not accept its complaint for investigation may request, by written submission, a review of that decision.

If your establishment has been subjected to repeated inspections or received a Contravention Notice contact Dan Coles at Owen Bird to better understand your options.

*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.