On March 31, BC’s Liquor Control and Licencing Branch released a Policy Directive about changes to how Special Occasion Licences (SOLs) are administered in the province. SOLs are temporary liquor licences needed to hold one-off events in spaces that are not usually licenced. At UBC, it’s the type of licence a student group would use to hold beer gardens. The changes unveiled by the LCLB will (hopefully) force UBC to significantly modernize the process of SOL approvals.
First a small change to highlight about advertisements. Previously, it was not permitted to advertise the fact that any sort of liquor would be available at any event licenced using an SOL. As a result the term “BZZR” has long been used on posters as a way to get around that prohibition. No longer: “Effective immediately, public events are permitted to advertise to the general public, and may include the availability of liquor in those advertisements.”
The more fundamental shift is that all SOL applications will happen online. Right now, UBC’s approval system for SOLs is completely paper-based and also completely stupid. It’s not unusual for an SOL application to require at least 5 different signatures, and all must be collected by ferrying sheets of paper in between various buildings on and around campus. UBC, the Vancouver Fire Department, and the RCMP have all inserted themselves at various points in the process completely unnecessarily. The result is that it generally takes weeks to obtain an SOL, and is a huge waste of many people’s time.
Starting April 20, you will be able to apply for an SOL online. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes and you can do it in your underwear. As of May 20, paper applications will no longer be accepted at all. If all goes well, this should majorly disrupt the red tape-laden, bureaucratic nightmare UBC worked so hard to construct around SOL approvals.
UBC, campus RCMP, and the Vancouver Fire Department seem to have been caught flat-footed by these changes, and especially by how quickly they are being implemented. When contacted, the RCMP was not yet sure exactly how the online system would be implemented, despite it becoming available in less than 2 weeks. UBC’s Policy 13: Serving and Consumption of Alcohol at University Facilities and Events was revised just last year, but is clearly still based on the idea of pushing paper all around campus. No allowances were made for the fundamental changes now happening to SOLs, changes which had already been announced by the government when Policy 13 was under review. If the university doesn’t act fast, a situation will be created in which it’s technically impossible to get an SOL at UBC because the university’s regulations don’t allow for the existence of an online application process.
The online SOL application system has already been operating as a pilot project in Vancouver and Burnaby and the sky has not fallen. Hopefully, UBC takes a cue from the government that blowing up the entire existing SOL application process is perfectly OK, and that in rebuilding it they should really take into account the fact that the internet exists and we should use it.