Liquor retailers fuming over 'shaming' signs 0
A sign for a violation of liquor control and licensing act is displayed in a private liquor store in Vancouver, Thursday. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)
A $7,500 fine and a new requirement to put up "shaming" signs after they've been busted selling booze to minors is drawing the anger of several liquor store operators.
The outrage follows a liquor board policy revision last August requiring those caught violating liquor sale laws to put up the signs, usually for one to two weeks, even if it's a first offence.
The policy, along with the government's use of undercover underage "agents" to participate in stings, has many Lower Mainland stores red-cheeked with embarrassment.
Many want to speak out but fear retribution from the province.
"I feel like it's just a shame tactic, there's no real reason for them to be up other than to shame us. Now, we are paranoid about IDing," said downtown liquor store manager Faye, who spoke on the condition her last name be withheld.
"I'm scared of what they could do to me, to us. I just don't want to stir the pot, I'm part of a larger company."
Feema Talwar, manager at Jimmy's Cold Beer and Wine Store in Vancouver, said she had to fire a staff member because he sold liquor to a minor.
"It's our mistake. They're putting up signs, making sure customers know we did violate this," she said. "It's a little bit like a punishment. (But we) are supposed to catch every single person."
Under the new revisions, the government can choose to impose a monetary fine or a suspension for a first offence. The new rules also require stores put up the shaming signs regardless of the penalty.
But while current legislation allows the government to impose the shaming signs during a suspension, it doesn't allow the same for fines, said B.C. Civil Liberties Association's David Eby.
"It's not unlike a scarlet letter kind of idea, where somebody who's broken a criminal law would have to wear an indicator that showed they had broken the law," Eby said, warning of the precedent the new rules sets. "You can see very quickly that the government may think that it's a great idea for all kinds of laws . 'You have more than 10 traffic tickets, I'm going to put a sign on your car, (for example).'"
The province, however, seems unready to budge.
"That's the way it's going to be," said Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman.
"We went to a method of saying 'we're going to let you understand the embarrassment so it helps you educate your staff.' If you have a contravention notice you have to post, you can point that out to your staff on every shift."
"Quite pleased" with new crackdown, Coleman added compliance rates for government liquor stores are now at 98%. For private licensees, that rate has improved from the "30-percentile" a few years ago to 80% for private licensees.
"Perhaps we're easier targets?" said Matt MacNeil, president of Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C. association that represents private licensees, noting private outlets struggled with less staff than government stores.