Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thank You to Karen Ayers & the LCLB

The Iconic multi-purpose RIO which has
been screening films at Broadway and Commercial
since 1938
Those of us who have been advocating for changes to BC's archaic and restrictive liquor laws owe the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) & General Manger Karen Ayers a letter of thank you for their handling of the Rio Theatre liquor license-movie screening debacle.

With one ill-advised, short-sighted move, Ayers created a grassroots movement that has outraged the general public, captured the attention of the mainstream media and rallied politicians, both civic and provincial, to join the swelling numbers who believe the LCBC are being heavy-handed and unreasonable by barring all movies at the iconic 74-year-old, Eastside theatre.

I'm assuming that if you are reading this blog you are fairly up-to-date on the whole fiasco, but if not, in a nutshell, the RIO was forced to stop screening movies due to a "condition" placed on their liquor primary license 30 minutes before owner Corrine Lea was to sign off on the license stating the theatre could not screen any films at any time.

Lea had applied for a liquor primary license so she could sell alcohol at the multi-purpose venue's live events at night knowing she could not sell booze when screening films due the LCLB's law prohibiting movie theatres from doing so. What she planned to do was show films during the day, with the alcohol safely locked away and then use the liquor primary license, which is valid from 6 PM to 1 AM when, when The Rio was hosting live music shows, burlesque or any other number of live events they book.

To the majority of us, this seems like a reasonable and responsible way to operate. Movies, popcorn and soda during daytime, all-ages movies and beer and burlesque at over-19, no-minors-allowed shows at night.

Sad sight for Commercial Drive locals who
can no longer wander down to The RIO to
take in a film
Not so says the LCLB who fear that...actually, I have no idea what they fear in this situation as the logic is so illogical and downright unreasonable. The law is in place to stop minors from buying booze at the theatre's bar and then drinking it cloaked in the darkness of the theatre. But Lea was planning on having the booze locked away during the daytime, all-ages shows.

Come on, teenagers have been sneaking alcohol into theatres forever and don't need a concession stand bar to secure booze.

And because of this, adults are not allowed to sip a cold beer or glass of wine while enjoying a movie here in BC, something that is not the case in much of the world where public order and safety seems to be intact. I have even read that Manitoba is allowing the screening of films with booze and that Ontario is not far behind.

January 31st, Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to support Lea in getting the restrictive condition removed so The Rio can show films during the day, sans alcohol, and plan to lobby Solicitor General Shirley Bond, whose ministry is ultimately responsible for the LCLB, to get Ayers to do the right thing and do it quickly as The Rio is losing $2,000 a day, according to Lea.

NDP MLA Jenny Kwan has spoken out in the media and written an open letter of support to Bond and stated on a CKNW radio call-in show that "with a single stroke of the pen" Ayers could remove the condition and get The Rio showing movies on their silver screen. Kwan should have a fairly good idea as to how the system works as she has been involved at the provincial level for close to 20 years so when Ayers says her hands are tied, I wonder just how hard she is trying to loosen the ropes that bind them.

This show of support by elected politicians of any level for anything pro-alcohol is almost unprecedented.

Solicitor General Shirley Bond needs  to force the LCLB and
GM  Karen Ayers to remove the restriction preventing bums from
occupying  seats while movies screen at The Rio!!
Rumours are circulating around that Bond and the Liberal Government are looking to make changes to the current BC liquor laws, many of which date back as far as the 1920's, to bring them into the 21st Century. Bond herself has admitted to the press in a prepared statement that her government is looking for, "ways to streamline and modernize our regulation of liquor in British Columbia," and are specifically looking for a solution to address The Rio's current predicament.

Maybe it is the lingering sting of the defeated HST that began with the voters of BC voicing their outrage against the way the hated tax was introduced and ended with Gordon Campbell running off to London, England with his tail between his legs that has those in power backpedaling and those in opposition salivating. That public outraged was harnessed by a very clever and opportunistic Bill Vander Zalm and turned into an organized grassroots' movement that quashed the tax. I think the BC Liberals, fearing another campaign of organized public protest has them and the LCLB hunkering down in their ivory tower trying to figure out a way to defuse the situation before it grows stronger.

On a daily basis, residents of this province who drink alcohol get screwed royally by the LCLB and we mostly take it with a smile or, at worst, take it with little more than the odd grumble and the occasional rant to our friends, family or the unlucky stranger sitting next to us in the bar. But hardly ever do we get organized and political and truly let LCLB & GM Ayers and her out-of-touch brain trust know how we really feel about their arrogant, patronizing, we-know-better-than-you attitudes towards our province's out-of-date, archaic and often down-right illogical & restrictive liquor laws which are apparently the way the are in the name of "public safety".

Ayers and the LCLB are claiming their hands are tied, as they do, when they interpret the often loosely worded laws in a manner that suits them. Ayers claims she has to enforce the law that states movie theatres cannot have liquor primary licenses because the law exists therefore must be adhered to.

But in this case, it is not so cut and dried. There is no legal definition of what a movie theatre is. The RIO Theatre has many functions, screening films being one of them. Lea has insisted all along she would comply with not serving any alcohol during the time she showed movies and would do so until the law was changed to allow for such activities. There are venues, including The RIO in the past, that apply for Special Occasion Licenses to serve alcohol during movie events and they have been successful and you know what, public safety did not disintegrate and drunken rioters did not take to the street.

That only happens related to hockey games. On that note, why is Rogers Arena allowed to serve booze? Are there not a significant amount of minors who attend those events who could easily obtain booze and consume it in anonymity while hiding amongst the 18,000+ fans?

"There was no dialogue," stated a frustrated Lea about her interactions with the LCLB and Ayers. "Literally 30 minutes before I was to sign off on the license I received an email stating I could not show any movies and any time so I was forced to chose between having my liquor license and not showing movies or losing the license and showing movies. I was hoping that I could work out a solution (with Ayers) that would work for everyone."

Ayers and LCLB have been described by many in the BC alcohol industry as being heavy handed with their it's-our-way-or-the-highway style of operation. They have been called vindictive by many and very few speak out publicly against them or rock the boat for fear of reprisal. Lea had been vocal in the press about the need for liquor law reform specifically in regards to the law preventing theatres from selling alcohol during film events prior to the condition being placed on her license and rammed down her throat.

Last September the LCLB almost crippled the Great Canadian Beer Festival when Ayers sent an email to festival organizer Gerry Hieter, who has often been openly critical of the LCLB and Ayers in particular, advising him less than 24 hours before the event that US breweries could not pour beer. The decision was again unexpectedly reversed less than four hours before the festival, which was expecting 7,000 beer lovers to attend, opened and to this day Hieter has no idea what prompted these bizarre, last-minute decisions other than the LCLB sending him a message that they can and will make life very difficult for him because they do not like the idea of a great, two-day celebration of craft beer.

CAMRA Vancouver is trying to get
Ayers and the LCLB to enforce the
one liquor law that makes sense
And it seems this need by the LCLB to operate by the letter of the law, without flexibility or compromise is selective. There are some liquor laws out there that make sense and actually are in place to protect consumers and promote public safety. Take the liquor law that dictates that all licensees must provide serving size-price lists to customers that is widely ignored by licensees and completely unenforced by Ayers and the LCLB. CAMRA Vancouver's Fess UP to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign, is currently trying to get the LCLB to enforce the one liquor law that might actually make sense. It seems that all liquor laws are not created equally and that the LCLB enforce only those they feel like enforcing.

Let's hope that the public and politicians keep voicing their support loudly for The Rio, which now symbolizes the very real need to make some major changes to our liquor laws. It is not often where those of us in Lotusland get riled up enough to take on the establishment. It is time we say enough is enough and demand that the politicians treat us like adults who can fend for ourselves. We don't always need protection from ourselves. It would be brilliant to see the LCLB give licensees and the people of BC the chance to prove they can operate responsibly if given the latitude with more liberal liquor laws.
Punish those who do not choose to operate in a responsible manner and leave the rest of us alone to enjoy a delicous beer while watching a movie at our local cinema.

1 comment:

  1. Bit late but..

    This article represents such a poor understanding of reality I have to comment. The LCLB was planning on licensing some bigger theatres before Mrs Lea decided she would try for one. The difference was that the bigger theatres would have completely separate theatre rooms for alcohol. When the Rio applied for her license, the LCLB told her that the rules of the day were that she couldn't have one unless she was a live show venue. She said fine I'll be a live show venue. Knowing she wasn't serious about this, the LCLB specifically put on her license that she wasn't allowed to show movies - just like they told her when she applied. Then she flipped out and said what? But I am a movie theatre! Why can't I show movies and have alcohol? Uhh because you can't, just like they said. There was no 30 minute email warning out of the blue - it was an additional reminder to a woman who was trying to claim she didn't know the rules. Rich Coleman actually told her MLA that he wasn't wiling to change the movie theatre law until the Rio theatre shut up, because he didn't want to make it seem like this crazy lady was the one who instigated the change. In terms of the Great Canadian Beer Festival - you aren't allowed to make money off an event like that. All proceeds have to go to charity. But somehow, the organizer manages to pay himself a nice $50,000 for that one weekend event. Crippled? I don't think so. No wonder that festival is such a rip-off.