B.C.'s liquor stores stung by undercover agents 0
Between April 2011 and March 2012, B.C. liquor stores caught selling to minors have paid $307,500 in fines. (24 HOURS FILE PHOTO)
Kids acting as bait shoppers in a provincial sting program have been leaving empty handed from most liquor stores, following a year of skyrocketing compliancy rates by retailers who sell booze.
The high compliancy rate - now at an average 87% province-wide for both private and government liquor stores who ensure buyers are legal drinking age - is more than double the average a few years ago. The few businesses who haven't been diligent in checking identification, now wish they'd known the under-aged "agent" coming to their store was working for the government.
Two years ago, the government changed provincial rules to allow the liquor board to hire 28 older-looking youth (typically aged 16 or 17) to help bust stores selling to minors. The province suggests in a new report, the retailers have untrained or unsupervised staff, or are "motivated by desire for profit at the expense of public safety."
All penalties have gone to first time offenders, however, and so far caught-out stores have paid $307,500 in fines.
Stores busted under the program - 60 between April last year and March 2012 - face a $7,500 fine and, as of last August, have to put up signs indicating they violated the law.
Those caught will also face increased scrutiny and are identified as "high risk" for future non-compliance, according to the report.
B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association president Ian Tostenson scoffed at the suggestion any store caught selling to a minor is motivated by profit, and decried the "entrapment" method used.
"They're trying to force the issue here," he told 24 hours Tuesday. "These are honest mistakes, we shouldn't be over penalizing, or over-emphasizing something. They've tightened up standards, but don't put signs on the windows. Don't try to embarrass me when it's an honest mistake."
Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman previously said the point is to "embarrass" establishments who break the rules.
"No one wants to see liquor sold to underage youth, so it's encouraging to see improvements by licensees in reducing the sale of alcohol to minors," he said in a statement Tuesday.
Those retailers, like Dover Arms Liquor Store manager Ben Stevenson, however, are left feeling "frustrated" after being fined.
"There's a lot of people that come in when the store's full. If you slip up a little bit, it's a huge fine for a little mistake," he said.
"It makes it easier to show that you have to do it," Stevenson added about the non-compliancy signs adorning the business. "You need two pieces of ID."