On Friday, the B.C. Government published a report outlining 73 proposed changes to our province’s liquor laws. Liquor laws have a profound impact on the ability to hold live music events in our province. The Safe Amplification Site Society, a non-profit that is dedicated to music for people of all ages in Vancouver, would like to respond to the seven recommendations that we feel most affect all-ages music. Below, we comment on each of these and grade them, report card style.
BC: “55. The provincial government should introduce a new licence class and streamlined application process for facilities (e.g., stadiums, arenas and theatres) that charge a fee for an event (e.g., a sporting event or play). Minors should be permitted to stay until the event ends.”
Yes! We are very excited about this recommendation, and sincerely hope that all existing music venues will switch to this new class of licence, ditching their age-restricted liquor primaries forever. The only reason this is not an A+ is because the examples given do not include musical events. Assuming venues that charge a fee for a musical event will be given the same rights as those which charge a fee for a play, this could be a game-changer. A.
BC: “34. Minors, if accompanied by a parent or guardian, should be permitted in certain liquor-primary establishments. a. Government should establish a reasonable time (e.g., until 9 p.m.) that respects both the family’s choice to include minors in some events and the establishment’s responsibility to ensure an appropriate environment for all.”
While this would be an improvement on the status quo, we do have a few criticisms of this recommendation.
First, it is not always practical for teenagers and parents to go out together. Older teens may live apart from their parents, while some parents simply have different interests. The goal is to allow young people to safely and legally experience cultural events held in liquor-primary settings, and this change only helps those with parents or guardians who are available to attend those same events. We believe that a chaperone requirement may make sense for those aged 16 and under, but don’t think the requirement should apply to 17 and 18-year-olds.
Secondly, it is not specified what “certain liquor-primary establishments” means. Are they talking about allowing teens in the Best Western lobby bar, while still banning them from important concert venues like the Biltmore and Astoria? We are disappointed by the ambiguity here.
Additionally, the “reasonable time” is also left vague. 9 p.m. is given as an example, but it’s unclear whether that is the actual proposed cut-off time for minors inside liquor-primary establishments. We believe a 9 p.m. ending is too early to allow for functional all-ages events. An 11 p.m. cutoff for minors would be more reasonable, and would allow for true all-ages events where humans of all ages can interact and enjoy the same event together.
While recommendation 35 could certainly be improved upon, this is a good start. Considering the status quo is an F-, it’s great news that this recommendation is a solid C.
BC: “48. Remove the regulation that requires non-profit organizations to apply for an SOL for concerts and events. This will allow promoters who actually manage the event, to be responsible to meet all requirements of the liquor licence.”
This proposal, along with recommendations 7b and 43-46, makes it easier to acquire a Special Occasion Licence, which allows the sale of alcohol at a temporary all-ages event. While the SOL system is definitely broken, and we certainly appreciate any effort to improve it, we believe there is something missing here. One of the biggest problems with the existing SOL rules is that they are based on a distinction between public and private events. It’s easy to licence a ‘private’ event where all guests are invited or sold tickets in advance, but harder to get a licence for a ‘public’ event that anyone can walk into off the street. Size is not important, so it’s easier to licence a 500-person rock concert that everyone buys advance tickets to than a tiny piano recital that anyone could walk into off the street. This penalizes accessible community events that don’t have the capacity for advance ticketing, and encourages exclusive corporate events instead. We believe that if there is going to be an ‘easy to get’ licence and a ‘harder to get’ licence, the distinction should be based on the size of the event. While we appreciate these efforts to make all SOLs easier to get, there is no recommendation to abandon the public vs. private categorization, which is completely outdated and needs to be eliminated. C+.
BC: “15. Applicants and licensees seeking a review of LCLB decisions should have access to a new and separate decision-making body outside the licensing branch. The Ministry of Justice should review current processes and determine how best to provide independent decision-making for those seeking appeal.”
We hope the Ministry of Justice follows through with this recommendation and creates a way for people to appeal LCLB decisions. An appeals process like this could have saved Hoko’s, which we believe was unfairly targeted by LCLB enforcement officers back in 2009. A+.
BC: “37. Food-primary enterprises that wish to fully transition away from food service after a certain hour (e.g., 9 p.m.) – if, for example, they wanted to operate as a nightclub – will be able to apply for a licence endorsement, allowing them to operate like a liquor-primary licence during those hours only. a. Minors would not be allowed in the establishment after that time.”
The aforementioned Hoko’s was fined an unaffordable amount because they were operating contrary to their purpose - ie: as a “community centre” (actual quote from LCLB enforcement officers) instead of a restaurant. On one hand, this recommendation would legalize that business model, as restaurants would be able to legally shift to being concert venues after dinner time ends. On the other hand, the recommendation states that “Minors would not be allowed in the establishment after that time.” This is disappointing. We love restaurant venues because they can legally allow minors! This proposal seems to remove that possibility. F.
BC: “66. Allow liquor-primary establishments to offer more liquor-free events for all-ages (e.g., music concerts).”
Boom! Death to Policy Directive 12-09! We’ve already explained why that policy was wrong and why it should be overturned immediately. It seems that the BC Government agrees with us all of a sudden. A+.
BC: “51. Except where it is not suitable from a public safety perspective, permit whole-site licensing for public events, eliminating “beer gardens.””
Currently, some outdoor events must restrict drinking to special areas that are fenced off from the rest of the event. This creates an ageist segregation where drinking adults are physically separated from non-drinkers of all ages. While there is a loophole here (it’s not clear just “where it is not suitable from a public safety perspective”), the recommendation does suggest a literal tearing down of age barriers. B.
As we can see, these recommendations are positive steps. Creating new licence classes, a separate body to review the LCLB’s decisions, and allowing liquor-only venues to offer alcohol-free all-ages shows are all great ideas. But there is still much room for improvement when it comes to the ambiguous wording of the proposals, and unrealistic expectations of both the venues and attendees. Overall, we’ve given this report a 2.99 GPA, which falls just short of a B average. It’s not good enough to get into a top university, but okay for community college.