Liquor store hit with $7K fine for serving minor

New practice sees LCLB hiring underage patrons to catch operators

A local liquor store owner is left trying to figure out how he's going to come up with $7,500 following a sting-like operation involving an undercover minor.

According to Michael Kompass, owner of the Blackcomb Liquor Store, some time in the last few weeks the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) of B.C. hired a minor to enter the store and purchase alcohol.

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"Someone who was underage came in and sort of shopped around and shortly after, the minor's supervisor came in to witness the whole thing and so they pretended to browse around and watch," explained Kompass, who was not working at the time.

The minor then purchase a six-pack of beer and was not asked to produce ID. The LCLB followed up with a $7,500 fine for selling alcohol to a minor.

While Kompass agrees that serving minors is wrong, he feels the way the LCLB went about their practice was something similar to a set-up.

"The thing that hurts the most is that it's sort of a pre-meditated thing rather than it being a random incident," he said. "If it was just a random minor that had come in and was served, I'd rather pay a fine for that rather than somebody who's actually working for the government to come in and do that."

When asked if incidents like these could be considered entrapment, Arnold Schwisberg, a Toronto-based lawyer who deals with liquor-related cases said in an email to The Question, "There is a distinct prospect that the liquor branch has been engaged in entrapment practices affecting Whistler liquor licensees.

"While a liquor inspection regime is legally allowed some room to implement tests to seewhether its regulatory limits are being respected, it is not proper to enable, encourage or self-create an offence."

Schiwsberg, who has spent time in Whistler as founder of the Jazz on the Mountain festival that launched in September, went on to say that such set-ups might be occurring at other local establishments.

"I have heard personally from other liquor licensees in Whistler about situations in which they have been pressed by a decoy or unidentified liquor inspector to serve liquor at a time abutting closing hours," he said."The decoy can be quite ingenious and persuasive to get that 'last drink,' which is an offence to pour minutes before closing."

In the past, said Kompass, the LCLB used to hire young-looking adults to "secret shop" liquor stores to see if they were being asked for ID.

"These were people that were still 19- or 20-years-old but they just appeared young, so if you served them or not you were still not breaking the law," said Kompass.

When reached for a comment, a spokesperson for the LCLB confirmed that the practice of hiring minors is a new measure that went into effect in May.

"In the past, the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch would employ people of legal age to see if liquor stores were asking for ID," said the spokesperson. "At that time, just 29 per cent of stores that were visited asked for two pieces of ID when selling liquor to the persons working for LCLB. In this scenario the store was not breaking any law because the person was of legal age."

To step up their game, and made possible because of recent changes to B.C. liquor laws, the LCLB then began hiring minors as a way to guarantee enforcement.

"Hiring minors is really the only (way) to find out if both private and government liquor stores are ensuring they are not selling alcohol to minors," said the spokesperson.

Kompass said the incident is the first infraction for the Blackcomb Liquor Store and that the $7,500 fine was the bare minimum charged by the LCLB.

"Store owners can face fines of $7,500 to $10,000 as a monetary penalty or a 10 to 15 day licence suspension for a first offence within any 12 month period," said the LCLB spokesperson.

Kompass said a date has not been yet been set on when the fine is due, but the amount is worrying, as it equates to about a month's revenue for the business.

"Anything like that, especially at this time of year, is a big hit," said Kompass. "We're in the midst of trying to work a deal with our landlord so that we can make all ends meet and stay open."

As for what he'd prefer to see rather than sending in undercover minors, Kompass suggested that a simple check up every few months would have sufficed.

"It's up the liquor control board and whatever they feel is most effective," he said. "It also seems like a pretty good source of revenue for them as well."

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