Yesterday, UBC Insiders released a database of Special Occasion Licences (SOLs) granted at UBC that revealed 1 in 5 SOLs granted at UBC were approved by the RCMP despite being in breach of provincial liquor regulations. The overwhelming majority of these events were not student-run. There is another area to explore about how the RCMP scrutinizes SOL applications at UBC: rules that aren’t in provincial law.
Back to the Tyee article:
Wendland thus created an unpopular formula for granting special occasions licenses: no more than 2000 people can be consuming alcohol at special events on campus at a given time (an arrangement allotting one officer for every 650 attendees).
Departments are limited to two permits a month, which have to be shared between both faculty and student groups from the same department. And licenses also now permit a maximum 4.5 drinks per person, even though the provincial maximum is six.
One more which wasn’t mentioned revolves around pricing. SOL regulations say that events using these licences should not intend to make a profit and as a result a liquor price schedule has been produced which outlines maximum prices that can be charged. This document sets only maximum prices, not minimums. Nowhere in any SOL regulations are minimum prices mentioned. In the SOL database there are columns for drink prices. None of the entries have prices that fall in between $0 and $2. The RCMP has imposed a $2 minimum drink price for all events at UBC. Although not noted in the SOL database, any applications submitted with lower prices have the original prices crossed out by the RCMP and replaced with $2.
In fact, SOL regulations do give local police the ability to put additional conditions on SOLs before approving them. There is nothing inherently wrong with extra rules being in place. Look closer though, and the administration of these rules certainly raises concerns.
*The rule about limiting special events to 2000 people at a time might seem reasonable. But that capacity is consistently reduced when 1 in 5 SOLs is granted to ineligible events.
*It’s not clear how evenly the rule about two per department per month was applied. There are instances in the SOL database where it was not. But it’s an odd rule to put in place where organizations that have defined themselves independently are being lumped together again. Except, of course, UBC Athletics.
*Not only do provincial SOL regulations say nothing about minimum prices, the RCMP also says nothing. As mentioned earlier they’ve produced a set of guidelines for submitting an SOL application. On it they ask you to provide:
“Price $$ you will be charging for each drink. N/C for no charge.”
There is no indication whatsoever that certain prices will not be allowed. By looking through the SOL database, it appears that about half of the events at UBC provide liquor at no charge. It is difficult to fathom why events with drink prices <$2 would be disallowed when events providing free liquor are the norm. A host has a duty to provide responsible beverage service. Period. This duty remains the same regardless of the price being charged or the amount of liquor on hand. Event organizers should be allowed use their discretion rather than be subject to price minimums and artificially low limits on liquor quantities.
Also keep in mind that the Tyee article is the only place these additional rules can be found in writing. The RCMP has made almost no effort to communicate these rules to SOL applicants even though they already publish guidelines for applicants. The reason cited for why this document cannot be revised is that the sergeant in charge (formerly Dan Wendland, now Brian Decock) is exceptionally busy. There may be a way to free up some of the sergeant’s time.
Why is RCMP approval mandatory?
UBC’s Policy #13 (Serving and Consumption of Alcohol at University Events or on University Premises) says that any event on campus where liquor is to be served must have an SOL. The exceptions to this are places with permanent liquor licences (Pit, Koerner’s, Chan Centre, Mahony’s, T-Bird Arena etc.), private residences (UNA) and university residences (which may or may not require an SOL depending on what’s happening.)
There are two types of SOLs:
- Public: These events are open to the public. Hard liquor cannot be served and local police approval is required to obtain the SOL.
- Private: These events are closed to the public and open only to invited guests/members of an organization. Hard liquor is allowed to be served, but local police approval is not required; it is at the discretion of the local police whether or not they’d like to examine any given application for a private SOL. Otherwise it could go straight to the liquor store for approval there.
Keep in mind that the Public/Private distinctions is based solely on who will be attending the event. The location of the event is not a determining factor, contrary to what the RCMP, and even the LCLB, have recently been claiming.
It also leads to an apparent problem with Policy #13. The policy requires event organizers to seek the RCMP’s approval for all events. As mentioned, this is only necessary for public events. For private events, it is supposed to be at the RCMP’s discretion. I sincerely believe UBC should change the policy and simply defer to provincial regulation on this point, especially in light of the findings from the SOL database.
Regardless of whether or not Policy #13 is changed, it is likely that the RCMP itself will request to approve all SOL applications. In the database there are 572 Private events and 157 Public events (and 1 event where the person marked down “Promotional” to avoid paying for the licence). Not requiring police approval for private SOLs would be an excellent way to free up some of Sgt Decock’s time.
Apologies for mentioning this yet again but it’s important: the RCMP is not obligated by provincial law to examine those 572 private events (almost 80% of the total) – this is something they choose to do. The system that results is absurd. Some SOLs are granted even though they violate provincial liquor regulations. At the same time, other SOLs which conform to provincial guidelines end up being modified and/or denied. The RCMP claims to be enforcing provincial liquor policy when in fact the exact opposite is happening. There is a distortion of rules to the point that it seems provincial regulations are largely irrelevant to whether or not a licence is granted and the conditions placed on it.
A crackdown is certainly in place, evidenced by the presence of additional rules that go above and beyond provincial regulations. But these rules are not applied equally to everyone, nor are they effectively communicated or reasons given for their existence. Students have been aware of this problem for some time but had only anecdotal evidence. A survey of SOLs suggests that the problem has been systematic and widespread. It is extremely unfortunate that the RCMP continues to have legal authority over liquor licencing at UBC given that the process appears to be neither fair nor transparent.