British Columbia's complex liquor laws have struck again, this time punishing the Belfry Theatre and other non-profit groups that auction wine for fundraising.
The Victoria theatre has used its Crush wine auction to raise funds for the last two years and was set to host the third annual event on Sunday, until the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch turned party-pooper last Friday.
The branch told the Belfry it had discovered that the wine up for auction had been donated by private individuals. It turns out that's a no-no and has been for some time, so the branch rejected the theatre's request for a special-occasion licence.
In the voluminous rules in the Special Occasion Licence Policy Manual, Section 8.0 says: "All liquor used at an event under a special occasion licence must be either purchased by the SOL holder from an LDB approved outlet or donated by a manufacturer or agent."
Just to make it clearer, Section 8.2 says: "No one other than a manufacturer or agent may donate liquor for use at an event with an SOL."
That means all those Belfry supporters who dipped into their wine cellars for interesting bottles for the auction have to take them back.
It's a painful blow for the Belfry, which hoped to raise $20,000 from the auction. Not only will it not receive that money, the theatre is also out $8,000 to $10,000 in expenses because of the short-notice cancellation.
In justifying its many rules on special-occasion licences, the liquor board says:
"The Liquor Control and Licensing Act regulates liquor supply in order to ensure product quality, control and regulate consumption, supervise the conduct and operation of licensed functions and to protect the integrity of the liquor taxation system.
"By requiring all liquor to be purchased through authorized vendors, LCLB can monitor the source and quality of the liquor to protect public safety and to ensure that the appropriate taxes have been paid. Allowing other sources of liquor would compromise the liquor control and distribution system."
The rules look like overkill when it comes to pursuing those goals.
Public safety seems to be a fine reason for banning wine fermented in your basement and possibly for the prohibition on wine from do-it-yourself outlets. But it seems unlikely that British Columbians are being victimized by wine counterfeiters who are filling bottles with antifreeze and slapping on labels saying Chateauneuf du Pape.
Protecting the government's tax revenue is also understandable, even if most drinkers would disagree. However, how does banning donations do that? The Belfry supporter who donates a bottle has already paid tax on it - probably more tax than the manufacturer or agent pays.
If the non-profit group can't find a manufacturer willing to donate and decides to buy wine for its auction, it will discover more strange rules. It can buy the bottles from government liquor stores, B.C. wineries or some authorized rural stores, but not from cold-beer and wine stores, off-sales, off-site winery stores or Vintners Quality Alliance outlets.
Since all those sources sell commercial wine that is legal for sale and collect tax on it, the rules make no sense in protecting public safety, the flow of tax dollars or "the liquor control and distribution system."
The regulations that prohibit liquor donations for non-profit events might serve some hidden purpose of the liquor-control branch, but they do not serve the public of British Columbia.
They could be corrected with a little effort and a little common sense.
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