How to Lose your Liquor Licence for 15 days

On May 20, 2016 the general manager of the Liquor Licensing and Control Branch issued its decision in Re Caprice Hospitality Inc. dba Caprice Nightclub ordering a 15 day suspension of the popular Vancouver nightclub’s liquor primary licence. The decision can be found here.

15 days is a significant period of suspension for a liquor licence, and no doubt the ramifications will be felt by the nightclub’s staff, suppliers and of course clientele. While the suspension was significant, the licensee was fortunate its licence was not cancelled – which was a penalty available to the general manager’s delegate. The series of events at the heart of this suspension occurred the previous summer on June 27, 2015.

The Caprice Nightclub’s liquor licence allows it to sell liquor between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. from Monday to Sunday. All patrons in liquor primary establishments are required to leave the premises within 30 minutes of liquor service ending. Moreover, the establishment must close immediately after this time and the premises cannot be used for any other purpose (e.g. “after parties”) between closing time and 6:00 a.m.

At approximately 4:00 a.m. on June 27, 2015 three uniformed members of the Vancouver Police Department were patrolling the Granville Street Entertainment District. They heard loud music coming from the Caprice, and through an open window they observed a number of people inside. They also saw a Caprice staff member open the door and let people in. Some of those individuals were wearing backpacks.  As more people started approaching the door the staff member noticed the VPD officers coming his way, prompting him to duck inside the club and slam the door shut on the people attempting to gain entry. The VPD officers spoke to the people trying to gain entry and were advised they were attempting to get into an “after-party.”

Police banged on the door to the Caprice with no answer. However the officers noticed that the music inside was then turned down, and eventually turned off completely. One officer, looking through a window, saw a group of people leaving through the back door of the club.

Eventually, after significant banging on the door by the police, a male opened the door to the nightclub and identified himself as the owner/manager. He blocked the entrance to the club and refused the VPD’s demand for entry to complete a licensed premises inspection. He also initially refused to provide the VPD with identification confirming who he was, and that he was in fact the owner or manager of the club. Rather than escalate the situation the VPD determined that they would report the incident to the Liquor Enforcement Branch for follow-up and they left the Caprice’s premises at approximately 4:25 a.m.

Two weeks’ later a liquor inspector, branch regional manager and a detective with the VPD met with a representative of the Caprice Nightclub. The nightclub’s representative provided the liquor inspector with video footage from inside the nightclub at the time of the alleged contravention. The footage confirmed that there were people inside the nightclub after 3:30 a.m. Management of the Caprice also confirmed that the staff member facilitating after-hours entry into the club was neither an owner nor a manager of the Caprice.

At issue before the tribunal was whether or not the police officers had reasonable and probable grounds, as required under the relevant section of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, to request entry into the nightclub.

Counsel for the Caprice argued before the Branch that s.67 of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, which allows a peace officer to enter and search a premises, required reasonable and probable grounds of illicit liquor – meaning liquor that not purchased in accordance with the Liquor Distribution Branch process (e.g. liquor purchased out of province, or at a duty free outlet) – as opposed to liquor being unlawfully possessed by reason of being outside the licensed hours of service. The Caprice submitted that the VPD did not have reasonable grounds to believe that illicit liquor was on the premises, and therefore had no authority to demand entry into the nightclub.

The Branch’s delegate confirmed that s.67(3) of the Act applies in situations where liquor is being unlawfully possessed, regardless of whether it is illicit. However, after hearing all of the evidence the general manager’s delegate found that the VPD did have a reasonable belief that there was illicit liquor being transported into the nightclub in backpacks, as well as a reasonable belief that liquor was being consumed outside of the terms of the Caprice’s licence.

Refusing entry of police officers to a licensed establishment is an extremely serious contravention. The seriousness is demonstrated by section 69 of the Regulation which requires the general manager of the branch to cancel a liquor licence unless he is satisfied that it is in the public interest to refrain from doing so. In light of the licensee’s exemplary record with the Branch and history as a responsible member of the industry, the minimum penalty of a 15 day licence suspension was ordered.*

If your establishment’s liquor licence is at stake and you require representation before the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, the courts, or simply a better understanding of British Columbia’s liquor laws contact Dan Coles at Owen Bird.

*The May 20, 2016 Decision of the General Manager Liquor Control and Licensing Branch ordered the 15 day suspension to commence at the close of business on Friday June 24, 2016 and continue each succeeding business day until the suspension is completed. The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch has confirmed with Alcohol & Advocacy that the licensee has filed a judicial review of the decision, and that the suspension has been stayed pending the resolution of the judicial review.

*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.