Police, health officers weigh in on booze review

Provincial reforms urged to help curb gangsters, alcoholism

B.C.'s liquor policy review is receiving suggestions on everything from the rules for revived Happy Hours to whether police should have more power to remove gangsters from bars.

B.C. police chiefs are urging the provincial government to give their officers more power to haul gangsters out of bars and restaurants.

That’s one of the suggestions received so far by the government’s liquor policy review, which is expected to lead to significant reforms.

“The province has been dealing with a wave of gang violence with many shootings occurring in and around licensed premises,” Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich said in a submission to the review.

Rich, who chairs the legislative committee of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, called for province-wide police power to unilaterally remove anyone they decide poses a risk to the public in a licensed establishment.

He said police already work with establishments through the Barwatch program to remove gang members, but owners or staff can be intimidated by gangsters.

“It’s the licensed premises that primarily has the authority to have people leave its premises if it’s concerned, but that’s difficult with gang members,” Rich said.

The police chiefs association also wants the definition of public drunkenness expanded to allow the arrest of people intoxicated by drugs, and not just liquor.

The submission also suggests the courts could order detoxification and treatment for the chronically intoxicated.

Another proposal would let police temporarily seize the guns of hunters they catch with open liquor.

Medical health officers are cautioning the government against letting liquor flow more freely.

They want the province to freeze or cut the number of private liquor retailers and ban online ordering and delivery.

To combat disease from abuse of cheap high-alcohol drinks, they are seeking a minimum price of $3 per standard drink consumed on site and $1.50 for off sales.

They also want pricing tied to alcohol content, so youth and others aren’t encouraged to buy high-strength drinks.

They oppose any decrease in the drinking age of 19.

The province has indicated it isn’t considering changes to pricing or taxation, which provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said is unfortunate.

“Policy measures such as taxation are the most cost-effective public health response to the alcohol-related disease burden in countries with moderate and high levels of alcohol consumption,” he said in own response to the review.

Kendall questioned the government’s top priority of increasing or maintaining government liquor revenue – ahead of the second principle of minimizing health and social harms – and argued health system and other costs of alcohol use far exceed government revenues.

Meanwhile, a group called Campaign for Culture is promoting a return of happy hours and also urges the province to okay the sale of craft liquor at farmers’ markets.

B.C. is the only province that bans bars and restaurants from offering happy hour discounts in the late afternoon and early evening.

While the group supports lifting the restriction, it argues for a province-wide price minimum to prevent irresponsible practices like two-for-one, all-you-can-drink or women-drink-free offers.

Richmond-Steveston MLA John Yap is leading the liquor policy review and is to table recommendations Nov. 25. For more information see http://engage.gov.bc.ca/liquorpolicyreview/