Due to a decision made by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) and Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB), less than 24 hours before the gates opened for this year’s Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF), participating American breweries were hours away from being excluded from the event which has GCBF organizer Gerry Hieter believing the LCLB has it in for Canada's longest-running beer festival.
According to Hieter, he received, without any warning, an email from the LDB/LCLB on Thursday, September 8, at 4:56 PM, just 22 hours before the event opened, advising him that consular liquor privileges had been revoked for the festival, meaning US breweries would not have been able to pour their beers. Luckily for festival organizers and those attending, the decision was reversed at 1130 AM Sept 9, just 3.5 hours before the festival opened.
Consular Privilege allows alcohol to be imported into Canada by foreign consulates, tax and duty-free, for registered charitable events. Charitable events must apply to the appropriate consulate, fill out the appropriate applications, be approved by the consulate and get approval from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) before they can successfully import the alcohol they desire for their event. According to the US Consular General Wine Promotion Program, which is the same system used to import beers,
"Canadian regulations stipulate that promotional goods imported into
under Consular Privilege cannot be auctioned, sold or disposed of in any way other than by consumption during the charitable event for which they are intended. Canada
Wine not consumed during the event must revert to the custody of the United States Consulate General. As soon as possible following the event, contact (the US Consulate) to arrange delivery of unused wine to the US Consul’s residence. Unless otherwise agreed in advance, surplus wine will be served at future charitable functions or representational events selected and sponsored by the U.S. Government.
Within one week following the event, organizers are required to submit a signed statement describing the disposition of all wines imported under the Consulate General’s auspices".
Hieter states that the GCBF has been importing beer for the festival using Consular Privilege for 17 years without problems and "had no inkling, no warning" there was a problem this year until receiving the 11th-hour email from Karen Ayers, the General Manager of the LCLB. To date, Hieter has no explanation as to why the Consular Privilege was revoked, or why it was re-instated just hours before the festival began. It appears the GCBF had all their paperwork in order and had received approval from both the US Consulate and the DFAIT.
Representatives from 15 American breweries had already managed cleared customs with their beers and were in Victoria readying themselves for the festival before the decision. Representatives from two other breweries were actually held up at the border and were not allowed to clear customs with their beer until the decision was reversed.
"The amount of stress caused to me and the American brewers who had to sit in customs all morning after being told they couldn't bring their beer in to the province was a travesty and an abuse of power that should at the very least, result in a new General Manager," stated Hieter via email. "They (American breweries) wouldn't have been able to pour without that program in place which would have taken out 25% of our breweries. That would have spelled disaster for us."
Not to mention the embarrassment for the festival organizers, the costs attached the the US breweries who came up to Victoria, on their own dime, to participate and the extreme disappointment of the thousands of beer-loving festival goers who bought tickets and traveled to the festival with the expectation that certain breweries would be participating.
The LCLB state that they had been looking into the validity of the GCBF's eligibility for Consular Privilege and the last minute decision to revoke it was just bad timing.
"Both the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) and the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch had expressed concerns with respect to whether the Great Canadian Beer Festival was eligible for consular liquor privileges," stated, via email, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General spokesperson Cindy Stephenson.
"At issue is the timing of the letter revoking the consular liquor privileges. Because of the lateness with which the revocation letter was issued, it was decided that letter would be rescinded and consular liquor was approved for the festival for this year."
When questioned further as to why the GCBF was the target of this decision, Stephenson stated that the LDB and the LCLB were not specifically targeting the GCBF and are, "looking at issuance of consular liquor privileges to festivals generally," which is not good news for other festivals such as the Vancouver International Wine Festival and the soon-to-be-held Hopscotch Festival. Despite asking for details, I could not get any specific answers as to what the problems or issues were with the GCBF or why suddenly the way Consular Privilege has been used for years by festivals to import foreign products for locals to enjoy at charitable events is not valid.
For their part, the LDB and LCLB do voice regret for the stress caused by their oddly-timed decision.
"The LCLB and the LDB regret any confusion and inconvenience that may have been caused by the last minute revocation and reinstatement of consular liquor privileges for the Great Canadian Beer Festival," stated Stephenson on behalf of both agencies.
"We (LDB & LCLB
On the other side of the issue, Hieter is determined to find out why he was put through the ringer, without warning, just hours before his event was set to kick off. He still believes this latest incident with the LDB/LCLB powers that be was, "was a malicious act against us (GCBF) personally," and vows to get answers.
"I will be following up with our lawyer," said Hieter. "The gloves are off."