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Liquor Control Act Enforcement: What is the Minors as Agents Program?

The role of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (the “Branch”) enforcement program is to ensure that licensees comply with the Act, the Regulations and the terms of their licence. Though the goal of the Branch is to ensure compliance through voluntary measures and education, the Branch also relies on other tools including the random, but more often targeted, inspection of licensed premises by liquor inspectors. The Minors as Agents Program (“MAP”) is one of the Branch’s most powerful tools to achieve compliance.

In 2003 the Branch introduced a new compliance check project whereby “youthful-appearing adults” were recruited to attempt to purchase liquor on the Branch’s behalf from retail outlets. The youthful appearance of the agents was intended to raise concerns by liquor store employees as to whether or not the agents were minors. The Branch’s hope was that most retail outlets would ask for identification when the agents attempted to purchase alcohol. The results of the project provided data on the percentage of times that a salesperson would request two pieces of identification from a youthful looking agent attempting to purchase alcohol. During the five years that the project ran, the compliance rate was low and did not improve. In 2009 the overall compliance rate was less than one-in-three. While the project was informative, because the agents were 19 years of age or older, no enforcement action could be taken against establishments that failed to request identification.

In response to the demonstrated ongoing risk of minors accessing alcohol through liquor retail outlets, in 2010 the Branch established the Minors as Agents Program through an amendment to the Act. The amendment provided authority for a minor employed or contracted by the Province to legally purchase liquor from all types of liquor retail outlets and licensed establishments for the purpose of testing licensee compliance with the Act’s prohibition on supplying liquor to a minor. The legislation also provides for the Branch to take appropriate enforcement action against licensees when there are incidents of non-compliance.

Although the Minors as Agents Program is used by the Branch in all regions of the Province and tests all types of liquor licences, it remains a risk-based inspection program focused on establishments “frequented by a young demographic” or where police complaints have generated intelligence that cause the establishment to be identified as “high risk” for sales to minors.

Within the bar and restaurant industry there is a misconception that “food-primary” licences are not subject to MAP compliance inspections with the same frequency or vigour as “liquor primary” establishments. Statistics published by the Branch for the period April 1, 2013 – September 30, 2013 reveal that in the lower-mainland area dozens of “food-primary” licensees including hotel restaurants, popular chain restaurants, and cafes were fined or had their licences suspended as a result of failing MAP inspections. Although small or private Special Occasion Licence events are not routinely inspected, large public events are, especially where the event contains a “crowded open air” environment where a minor could potentially access liquor being sold at the event.

MAP agents must respond truthfully to any enquires about their age made by the staff of a licensed establishment. The agents typically leave their identification in a nearby vehicle, and if asked for identification when purchasing alcohol are required to respond truthfully: “I don’t have it with me.” The agents are not permitted to try and convince a clerk or server to make the sale. Occasionally a minor may, when asked, attempt to complete the purchase with his or her own identification for the purpose of determining how closely staff examine identification.

For the most common type of inspection a single minor agent enters a licensed establishment or liquor retail outlet accompanied by two liquor inspectors. More recently the MAP has changed its tactics and started using teams of 2-3 minor agents, sometimes accompanied by a 19 year old, to enter establishments and attempt to purchase liquor. Alternatively, a minor agent accompanied by a mature adult will enter a bar or restaurant and attempt to order liquor.

As a bar or restaurant owner you must anticipate that your establishment will be inspected by a MAP agent. If your staff permitted a minor agent to purchase liquor, the attending liquor inspector will usually notify the licensee immediately after the sale and issue the licensee a contravention notice.

Do your managers or shift-supervisors know what to do next?

*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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