Meet the Place Where Prohibition Never Ended: British Columbia, Canada

The local brewhouse being raided by the heat, the 5-0, coppers, feds, barnies, flatfoots and gumshoes alike.

British Columbia is a very weird place, something known by all other Canadians.  Our politics are flat-out bizarre, our city erupts into flames when our hockey team comes in second-place for hockey’s most coveted prize, our citizenry forgets how to drive when a snowflake hits the ground (and also forgets that there’s a reason Canada is called “The Great White North”), and our liquor laws are horribly antiquated.

We pay substantial taxes on our liquor, even stuff produced here. Exporting it is a hassle, and if you decide to visit any of our excellent, globally-recognized, award-winning wineries, taking stuff out of the province is a huge hassle. We have strict drinking-and-driving laws, which is fair (well, except for the whole making police judge, jury, and executioner bit, but that’s another article, I guess), but we also have horrible transit which shuts down across the Lower Mainland at like 1:30 AM, and even earlier in other parts of town.

I was driving to the States awhile ago, and on the way down popped into the Duty Free Store. There, I picked up a 24-pack of Kokanee Beer — a BC beer — for about $24. That same pack of beer would run closer to $44 in Canada ($42.49, according to the BC Liquor Distribution branch’s website, which has a near-monopoly on liquor bought and sold in BC). It’s all taxes, and it’s all going to the government. It’s actually pretty insane. Add in prohibition-era rules, and what you have is an incredibly backwards province in the first-world. I mean, we’ve set up a place for heroin addicts to inject drugs into their body in a government-funded establishment, but can’t bring ourselves to charge reasonable rates for booze. I used to be a huge politico in the BC politics circuit, and there’s an expression I once heard that’s stuck with me: government never met a tax it didn’t like. And it’s true; you can take the most fiscally-conservative, most libertarian political party in the world that promises to cut and slash everywhere. They’ll cut expenditures, definitely, but they’ll be a lot less likely to cut profits. Of course, an easy argument against slashing liquor taxes is that it’ll encourage alcoholism, but that’s as lazy an argument as it is a disingenuous one.

Enter the Rio Theatre in Vancouver. The Rio is a single-screen theatre that tends towards the artsier-side. It’s got a huge fan-base, likely due to the fact that it’s a refreshing break from the twenty-screen cinemas that pander to the mainstream. The owner, Corrine Lea, applied for a liquor license. Recently, she was granted one, but informed that she could no longer show movies and was now restricted to just live shows. And that’s bullshit. The Rio is an awesome theatre, and a reminder of what the cinema used to be about: it’s quaint as hell. And, well, we should be allowed to drink in theatres.

Corrine Lea in her sassiest pose.

I mean, it’s seems clear that some employee of what is essentially a taxpayer-funded organization handed Lea a liquor license without clearly stipulating what the terms are. And while maybe Lea can be criticised for not reading the terms more clearly or having a better consultant, it isn’t hard to see she’s been screwed by BC’s antiquated drinking laws. We’re talking about laws and organizations that were set up in the 1910s and 1920s and have barely been changed since — we are literally talking about prohibition-era stuff here. You can drink at a bowling alley, you can drink at Boston Pizza (which closes later than most BC bars, actually), and you can drink at Rogers Arena. Proponents of BC’s outdated liquor control laws would probably argue that the Stanley Cup riots — both of which were partially fuelled by booze — is proof that we can’t handle our liquor, but then permitting drinking at the arena but not outside of it is hardly a compelling argument.

There are cinemas across the world that permit drinking in theatres, not to mention all the jurisdictions across the world where drinking in public is permitted. The time-old argument is that public drinking encourages public intoxication; that somehow, legalising drinking in public would unleash a Dionysian armageddon, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It’s absurd, and, if you ask me, pretty insulting. It is nanny-state stuff, and it is the government basically saying, “you can’t handle your drinking.”

BC is having talks about legalising prostitution and even a place for alcoholics to drink fine vodka and sherry on the public dime. While I disagree with a place like Insite, where heroin addicts can inject themselves in a clean and safe environment, I have to admit that I think it’s better to the alternative — I’m not so jaded as to think that we should just let drug addicts kill themselves. I think BC is a somewhat enlightened place — but when it comes to certain things, we’re definitely backward.

There’s a petition going around to get the laws changed. I encourage you to sign it and write your City Councillor and your MLA. At the very least, we can probably save the Rio. At the most, we can probably get these laws changed.

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6 Comments on “Meet the Place Where Prohibition Never Ended: British Columbia, Canada”

  1. Randy says:

    I just want to have a glass of wine or two on my boat in the Summer. I think part of the problem is that there a lot of fools who overstep the boundaries and ruin it for the rest of us. But still these absurd laws are a joke.

  2. Anth says:

    British Columbia has some very stringent laws not only on alcohol but tobacco as well. The recent BC Liberal governments have shown that they’re most interested in playing Mother to British Columbians. When is too much government enough?


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