Liquor Law Enforcement in Resort Communities

Licensees who operate in vacation destinations or resort communities know that that many of their patrons are visiting from away, and are in town to relax. Customers may be from foreign jurisdictions where the laws and culture surrounding the service and consumption of alcohol are very different than they are here in British Columbia; alternatively their customers may very well know the local laws and restrictions but feel that the laws should be as relaxed as they are.

Regardless of what category your guests fall into, or where your licensed establishment is located, British Columbia’s liquor laws never go on vacation. Unfortunately for one food primary licensee it had to learn this lesson the hard way, and is serving a six day licence suspension commencing at the close of business February 10, 2017.

The Branch’s reasons for its decision in Re Big White Mountain Mart Ltd. can be found here.

The Big White Market Deli is a licensed deli in the resort community of Big White outside of Kelowna, BC. The Deli is located adjacent a grocery store (that is also operated by the licensee) that includes a Rural Agency Store that sells alcohol. Rural Agency Stores are full-service general grocery stores authorized by the Liquor Distribution Branch to sell liquor in communities where liquor service is not readily available.

On the evening of April 9, 2016 a liquor inspector attended the Deli and saw a group of people seated around a table with an open 24 of Molson Canadian. Two of the men at the table had open cans of Molson Canadian directly in front of them. A server who brought food over to the table made no attempt to have the patrons remove the beer.

According to the Deli’s manager, customers of the RAS routinely purchase beer next door, and bring it over to the Deli to drink. In his submissions before the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch the manager described Big White as having a relaxed culture with respect to the consumption of alcohol. More specifically he testified that “people see Big White as a resort with no laws. It is like the wild, wild west.”

While the Branch did not comment on the public’s perception of the enforcement of liquor laws in Big White, the Branch did find that in a resort area where there is a “heightened risk for non-compliance” licensees must demonstrate greater efforts in diligently upholding the terms and conditions of their liquor licence. In this instance permitting patrons to bring a case of beer into the establishment, leave it open in plain sight, and consume beer without any reaction from the server was found to be unacceptable and a contravention of s.42(2) of the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation that prohibits liquor not purchased from the licensee from being consumed in that establishment.

At the hearing before the Branch the licensee raised various issues that are common to licensees who operate in resort towns, such as: employing a transient and seasonal workforce and operating in a community where liquor laws are routinely ignored. Though the Branch did not find these submissions mitigating, other licensees who could find themselves in a similar situation should consider how their establishment deals with these risks:

  • If your work force is seasonal, how do you ensure they take their obligations under the Act seriously? In Re Big White the employees responsible for permitting the contravention to occur in April, 2016 are likely no longer with the company when the suspension is being served in winter 2017;
  • If your establishment is surrounded by businesses that take a relaxed approach to British Columbia’s liquor laws, how do you ensure your establishment remains vigilant?

If your establishment is currently facing enforcement action, or is being investigated by the Branch for a contravention of the Act or terms and conditions, 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.