Province promises to change liquor policy

Liquor branch says ‘minor’ changes led to denial of permit for Belfry

The minister responsible for liquor in B.C. has promised to take a “common sense” approach and repeal a law that shut down a local arts fundraiser.

The Belfry Theatre was forced to cancel its annual Crush wine auction, scheduled for Oct. 28, after being denied a special occasion licence 10 days previous.

At the time, the theatre was told provincial regulations prohibit the auctioning of alcohol unless it is first purchased directly from a government branch or agent.

On Friday, Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman announced charities can still auction gift baskets containing alcohol.

But they will have to wait until the government repeals a key section of the law that was only recently applied to wine-only auctions.

“Our goal is to get rid of these outdated liquor laws that unnecessarily restrict British Columbians and to regulate alcohol responsibly in the process,” Coleman said in a statement.

Ivan Habel, general manager of the Belfry, said the announcement comes too late for his fundraiser, but he is happy the province is tackling the issue.

“While placing wine in gift baskets may be the government’s temporary fix, it is certainly not a long-term solution for the sector,” Habel said in a statement.

“We anxiously await further clarity on the auctioning of wine as a fundraising activity, which is still prohibited.”

Questions remain on why the policy governing charity wine auctions was revised nearly four months ago without charity consultation.

A spokesperson for the Liquor Control and Licensing Board said a policy directive was not issued at the time “because the law and policy remained the same.”

But a May 2012 version of the special occasion licence policy manual reveals significant revisions were made to the sections governing charitable donations and wine auctions in June.

In the older manual, section 4.6 stated: “Liquor, including donated liquor, may be auctioned at a licensed special occasion to raise funds for charity.”

The revised manual states: “Only liquor which has been purchased by the SOL holder or liquor which has been donated by a manufacturer or agent, may be auctioned at a licensed special occasion to raise funds for a registered charity.”

An additional revision (section 4.4) states that only a liquor manufacturer or agent can donate alcohol for charity events.

The word “only” does not appear in the earlier version.

A ministry spokesperson responded to requests for comment on the policy change by saying the changes were “minor.”

“We had some queries and we wanted to make sure the policy was clear.” the spokesperson said.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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