The province's rigorous stance on liquor-control regulations has crushed the Belfry Theatre's wine auction.
The theatre company will lose as much as $30,000 because it was forced to cancel Sunday's Crush wine auction, said Ivan Habel, the Belfry's general manager.
The situation might also have costly implications for charitable events throughout the province, he said.
On Friday, B.C.'s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch sent a letter to the Belfry prohibiting it from auctioning donated bottles of wine. The company planned to auction the wine at its annual Crush fundraiser, scheduled for the Inn at Laurel Point.
The letter followed the Belfry's application to the liquor branch for a special-occasion licence. The Belfry has received such licences "without comment" for the past two years for its auctions of donated wine, Habel said. This year, the inspector processing the application had "time to do a lot of research . . . for whatever reason," he said.
The Belfry had anticipated raising at least $20,000 from the Crush wine auction. Instead, it will incur $8,000 to $10,000 in costs associated with the fundraiser.
On Monday, a ministry spokesman said the branch was "unaware" the Belfry was auctioning privately donated wine on past occasions. "When we became aware of this situation, we advised the licensee that their event would not be eligible for a special-occasion licence."
The spokesman, who asked not to be named, said such rules are regularly enforced "when we are made aware" of situations like this. The regulations help ensure taxes are paid as well as controlling authenticity and quality.
The liquor branch's Oct. 19 letter to the Belfry states all liquor for such an event "must be purchased from a government liquor store or other appropriate outlet."
It adds: "It is unfortunate that the Belfry Theatre made plans to accept and auction off wine from individual donors because this is clearly prohibited. Provincial liquor laws and policies expressly prohibit organizations from soliciting bottles of liquor from individuals to be auctioned for charity."
But Habel said: "They are not very clear about what is and isn't possible . . . the policy and how they apply it seems to be a little fuzzy."
If the liquor branch takes a similar stance across B.C., non-profit arts groups and charitable organizations could potentially lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, Habel said.
"It's not particularly good public policy, in that it doesn't respond to the needs and realities of dozens of charities across the province."
Habel said the Vancouver Playhouse raised more than $100,000 with its Bacchanalia Gala, in which bottles of wine donated by wineries and private individuals were auctioned. Last March, the Vancouver Playhouse closed down, citing financial problems.
Habel said the Belfry Theatre is financially stable. However, the loss of $20,000 is significant, representing - for example - 90 per cent of what the company devotes to new play development annually.
"The auction is a key thing in terms of revenue. It's hard cash, which the organization needs desperately," he said.
© Copyright 2013