Is it breaking the law to help a good cause?

Posted on: October 28, 2012

There is nothing like the controversy and confusion surrounding the forced cancellation of the Belfry Theatre’s annual Crush fundraising event to really hammer home how difficult to understand B.C.’s liquor licensing and distribution laws really are.  I believe that there are several people out there who have handled or distributed liquor (whether in their personal or professional capacity) and honestly thought they were doing everything right, only to find out the government disagreed.  As a result, stores may close, restaurants may go out of business or charities may lose fundraising opportunities essential for supporting their operations and charitable goals.
 
At the root of the unfortunate circumstances affecting Belfry Theatre and other situations with similar outcomes is the question, “what do the liquor laws really say?”  Another very good question which applies in many cases is “why was I allowed to do it before?”  In June 2012, amendments were made to LCLB policy regarding special occasion liquor licences (SOL).  Specifically, the policy permits the holder of a SOL to auction liquor at a licensed special occasion to raise money for a charity, but requires that liquor be purchased by the SOL holder or donated by a manufacturer or agent (special rules apply here). So, as in the case of Belfry Theatre, donations of liquor by private individuals falls outside of the four corners of this policy.  Without getting into the fact that policy does not equate to law, the BC government issued a press release on October 26th (titled Liquor law clarified to help non-profit organizations) stating a “common sense” approach would be taken regarding its interpretation of its own policy and permit non-profit organizations to auction gift baskets or similar items with commercially produced liquor as one component of the basket.  However, a similar “common sense” approach will not be applied for those non-profit organizations wanting to leave the gift baskets behind and auction wine alone.  Legally speaking, what is it about a “gift basket” that all of the sudden makes it okay for charitable organizations to auction liquor?  The statement makes it very obvious how easily policy can be changed…I am pretty sure that the liquor laws that govern all of us (government and individuals alike) do not mention “gift basket” or define exactly what will make up an acceptable gift basket for auctions.  Clear as mud?
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