Last year, former Ubyssey reporter Bryan Zandberg wrote a piece for the Tyee examining whether there was a “War on Fun” at UBC.
A year later, the piece is as dated as it is current. Sgt. Dan Wendland is no longer with us at UBC, but his legacy lives on through the policies he implemented. The students featured in the article for the most part have given up the fight, but a new set of students is discovering the absurdity with which the RCMP holds power over Special Occasion Licences (SOLs) at UBC.
In re-launching UBC Insiders, we made investigative features part of our mandate. Over the summer, I tracked down as many Special Occasion Licence applications filed at UBC as possible. With these in hand, a database was constructed through many, many late nights of data-entry. The database has been put online and can be accessed here. The database profiles 730 events from January 2008 until the present. The results confirm things that, empirically, students knew were happening. But they also raise questions about what rules the RCMP was actually enforcing.
In the Tyee article, Sgt. Wendland speaks about how the RCMP processes SOL applications:
While he openly accepts responsibility for the changes in liquor policy at UBC, Wendland calls the crackdown “a myth.” He says he’s just following the rules.
“Nobody out here qualifies for a special occasions license,” (SOL) underscores Wendland, referring to the unique authorization needed in order for students or faculty to sell or serve liquor outside a licensed bar or restaurant.
“We bend the rules to a certain degree, with Victoria’s permission.”
When the provincial government created SOLs, explained Wendland, they were intended for weddings and bar mitzvahs, not for, as the straight-talking staff sergeant puts it, “weekly beer gardens, daily beer gardens, drunkfests, whatever [students] want to call them.”
For the record, beer gardens are a perfectly legitimate use of SOLs. In going through all of the events at UBC though, it was surprising to learn that student groups are in the minority when it comes to who obtains SOLs. Faculty and university groups obtain liquor licences far more frequently than students. In fact there is one organization that is the undisputed king of SOLs at UBC.
Of the 730 events profiled since January 2008, 89 (12%) of them went to UBC Athletics. For those who are unfamiliar with SOL regulations, there is a limit on how many can be obtained.
In just eight months from August 2008 to March 2009, UBC Athletics obtained 81 SOLs, averaging just over 10 per month. It went as high as 18 in January 2009. It would strain the bounds of credulity to interpret this situation as being the result of an innocent oversight. The RCMP was certainly aware of this rule since they have a set of guidelines for submitting an SOL application to them which says:
**AS PER LIQUOR CONTROL LICENCING ACT, MAXIMUM OF TWO SOLs PER MONTH**
(reproduced faithfully: the asterisks, centre alignment, uppercase lettering, italics and boldface type are all present in the guidelines). They have provided no explanation why this limit was not applied to Athletics even though it was being applied to other campus groups.
The context in this case is also very interesting. In June, the RCMP wrote a scathing letter about Athletics’ poor management of liquor service to Metro Vancouver. The paper trail of SOLs appears to indicate that for the year previous, the RCMP was in fact complicit in allowing Athletics to avoid following provincial liquor regulations.
As a side note, it is possible for the Liquor Control and Licencing Board (LCLB) to grant exceptions to organizations so that they can hold more events than the standard allotment. However, no exceptions were granted in this case.
After UBC Athletics, there is a second batch of SOLs that cannot easily be explained: the 62 (8.5%) that were granted to caterers. Provincial laws are unambiguous on this topic:
It is the host’s responsibility to apply for a SOL. This could be an individual or a representative from a club, business or group. Event coordinators, caterers or managers cannot apply on the host’s behalf. (emphasis added)
Sixty-two instances seem to indicate quite clearly that this was also systematic. Once again, the RCMP have provided no explanation why this rule was not enforced. Was it due to ignorance of the regulations, or deliberately making exceptions for this group of applicants? Neither is acceptable.
Lastly, there is also a small subset of SOLs (13, 1.8%) which were granted despite the fact that pricing, hours or hard liquor service do not conform to provincial guidelines.
In all, over 20% of the SOLs in the database were granted by the RCMP despite the fact that the event and/or applicant was ineligible under provincial law. Virtually none of these events were student-run. Sgt. Wendland’s opinion was that a crackdown at UBC was a myth. What he neglected to mention is that his corollary, that the RCMP is following the rules, is pure fiction.
This is only one side of how the RCMP processes SOL applications. Tomorrow is the other side: rules that aren’t found in provincial law.