So you think you’re fit and proper?

Obtaining a liquor licence in British Columbia means meeting several criteria – some of them objective, others rather subjective.

During the licensing process the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch gathers information about applicants and their proposed licensed establishments in an effort to determine whether they meet liquor licensing criteria. Once all the necessary documentation has been received (objective criteria) and the application is considered complete, the general manager must assess whether or not the applicant is a “fit and proper” person to hold a liquor licence. The Branch sometimes refers to this threshold as “suitability.”

As Alcohol & Advocacy has explained, the Liquor Control and Licensing Act and Regulation give the general manager (the individual in charge of administering the Act) a considerable degree of discretionary decision making power. Though the general manager must exercise his or her discretion fairly, consistently, and in the “public interest” – few guidelines are codified.

To determine if an applicant is fit and proper the general manager considers whether there is any reason to believe the applicant, if successful in obtaining a liquor licence, would fail to comply with the terms and conditions of that licence.

The paramount consideration for the general manager is whether the applicant has been charged or convicted of any criminal offences or had administrative penalties levied against them for breaching provincial acts, or municipal or regional by-laws. This includes charges or convictions under the laws of a foreign country. In practice this entails a criminal record check and a consideration of any records that would show the applicant has previously not complied with the requirements of the Act. The “financial integrity” of the applicant will also be considered.

The general manager is also entitled to considered “other factors” believed to be relevant in the circumstances. This nebulous and open-ended of list of factors includes whether:

  •  the applicant has committed driving infractions where liquor was a factor;
  •  the applicant is of “good reputation and character”;
  • the applicant is associated with people involved in criminal activities;
  • the source of the applicant’s funding for the licensed establishment is connected to a criminal source;
  • the funding for the business can be confirmed as legitimate;
  • the applicant has demonstrated a disregard or lack of awareness of tax and employment laws;
  • the proposed location has been problematic for previous licensees; and
  • the general manager has concerns over the applicants “lack of experience in the industry”

The list of factors above is not exhaustive. The decision to grant, renew, transfer or modify a liquor licence will always be made on a case-by-case basis. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly in your dealings with the Liquor Branch, or are considering applying for a licence or a transfer of a licence and have questions about suitability, contact counsel experienced in this area of the law to better understand your rights and remedies.

*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.