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BC to ban all-ages events at several bars and nightclubs

A new policy directive released by the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) will ban dozens of liquor-serving establishments from hosting all-ages events.

The policy, which goes into effect on Jan. 15, was developed to stop minors from drinking before attending all-ages club and concert events, according to LCLB general manager Karen Ayers.

Before the change, venues like the Rickshaw in Vancouver were able to request temporary "de-licensing" for all-ages shows. As long as the alcohol was locked away, says Rickshaw owner David Duprey, minors could enjoy live performances at his venue every month.

Not anymore. "Minors attending these events have been found to be consuming liquor either prior to entering or outside the establishment during the course of the event," reads part of the policy, released on Nov. 27. "De-licensing for these types of events is no longer permitted."

"They're shutting us off because kids are drinking before they come to see a show," says Duprey -- a move he called "arbitrary" and "silly."

Venues with a "theatre" designation, such as the Orpheum and the Rio, will continue to be able to host minors. But the Rickshaw, which is designated as a "cabaret," will be impacted by the policy. Vancouver's Wise Hall, Venue and the Anza Club will also be limited to 19+ events.

Corinne Lea, owner and general manager of the Rio Theatre, says that although her business is not directly affected, she opposes the policy. In a statement released Monday, Lea said the change "will negatively affect live venues, youth culture, and the local music and entertainment industry in B.C."

"When young people attend a licensed venue, staff are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and ensure that young people are not sneaking alcohol inside," reads Lea's letter to the media. Last year, Lea campaigned against an LCLB policy that banned her business from screening films. "Now that they are excluded from cultural events at local venues, some of which they may have attended with parents, where will they go? Not likely somewhere with responsible business owners and staff concerned for their safety"

Duprey echoed Lea's concern about minors seeking unsafe alternatives to the Rickshaw.

"We have professional security guards. Their job is to make sure no outside alcohol comes in," he says. "It just means 18-year-olds will see music in illegal after-hours venues, where they're not going to have trained doormen."

The LCLB says there is no single event or venue that triggered the policy directive.

"The changes are a result of general concerns by local governments, parents and police," says Ayers, adding that police resources in Vancouver were being ineffectively used to supervise intoxicated minors. "I fully appreciate that this will have an impact on a small number of liquor primary nightclubs and bars, however the branch has a responsibility to act to protect public safety and the public interest."

Duprey called for independent oversight body so that affected businesses can launch a formal objection. "This decision was not vetted by anybody in the industry," says Duprey, an active member of Barwatch, a nightclub association which was not consulted by the LCLB. "They didn't take it to the stakeholders and say 'Hey, we've got a concern,' they just did it."

Sarah Berman is a freelance reporter based in Vancouver.

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