Following recent news that the Jazz on the Mountain festival was denied its “stadium style” special occasions licence (SOL) by B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB), festival founder Arnold Schwisberg has confirmed he will be taking legal action against the LCLB.
“The bottom line is, it is our intention to commence a legal proceeding against the liquor branch,” Schwisberg told The Question on Monday (Aug. 29). “But that will not go forward until after the event.”
Schwisberg had originally considered filing a petition for judicial review this week, which would have put him before a judge right away. But he ultimately decided he did not have the time to deal with the courts in the week leading up to the festival, and chose to focus all his efforts on the event itself.
When Schwisberg does proceed with his petition, however, it may very well set a precedent for future event organizers in the region seeking stadium-style SOLs, should he be successful.
“We’re going to issue what’s called a petition for judicial review, which is essentially where a judge looks at all available evidence and whether or not the regulator has adequately considered all necessary relevant factors,” explained Schwisberg. “If the regulator, in that judge’s opinion, has not considered all of the relevant and necessary factors, then the judge will conclude that the regulator has fallen into what’s called a ‘reviewable error’ and the judge will send the ruling back to the liquor branch for consideration.”
The news of Schwisberg’s intentions also comes during a time when liquor regulation is being discussed in the Sea to Sky region on a more broad scale, with community and council members puzzled by the LCLB’s decision.
“Festivals have become hamstrung by arbitrary rulings by members of the LCLB and their inspectors,” said Whistler councillor Chris Quinlan during last week’s council meeting, where council voted to bring the issue to the Province’s attention.
According to Quinlan, there have been various issues with licensing events and festivals in Whistler that appear to be arbitrary and arrived upon with little to no reasoning.
“The horrible thing is that it often depends on the officer attending, whether it’s a different inspector or whoever,” he said.
The Jazz on the Mountain decision is also reminiscent of a recent LCLB ruling that led to the Two Acre Shaker event in Pemberton being moved, despite having support from the community, council and the local RCMP.
“We wanted to get a lot de-licenced in order to be able to hold the event at the Meadows Golf Course,” said organizer Kirk Becker. “We had all of the community’s support and were willing to work to make this happen but it just fell through and the LCLB came back with a no.”
For Becker, the application appeared as if it was going to be approved, but then was denied at the last minute.
“One of the most frustrating things is watching them deny applications that have been approved in past years,” he said. “It seems discretionary and almost whimsical. If it were black and white then it would be a little bit easier to palette.”
Becker’s sentiments were echoed by Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, who was in full support of the Shaker.
“I think, generally speaking, liquor legislation in British Columbia appears to be paternalistic and one might even go as far to say archaic,” said Sturdy. “Generally speaking, I think it would be time to update the regulations around liquor to better reflect community values.”
According to Sturdy, Pemberton Festival organizers applied for a similar licence to the one sought by Schwisberg for the popular 2008 festival, which would have allowed for concertgoers to enjoy drinks while in front of the stage. Instead, the LCLB only allowed for a beer garden at the event, something that Sturdy thinks goes against the mantra of responsible drinking.
“When you contain people in a licensed area that doesn’t allow people to enjoy a drink and watch the event, what we found and experienced at the Pemberton Festival was you get huge line-ups of people trying to get into a beer tent who would then just pound beers and leave,” said Sturdy. “In my view, it appeared counter productive as you’re setting up a situation where people tended to drink rapidly over a short period of time because they didn’t want to miss something.”
It’s also the continued dialogue over liquor licensing that Sturdy said is a constant issue in the community’s efforts to see the Pemberton Festival return.
Both Sturdy and Becker said they hope the Province will reconsider its current liquor laws, something that Schwisberg hopes to bring to light with his petition.
“It will be a good thing, not just for future Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler events, but for Whistler Olympic Plaza and a great thing for the community and everyone here who has struggled with the liquor regulations and how they’ve been applied,” said Schwisberg.