Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.


The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Private liquor stores linked to deaths: BC study

As the British Columbia Liberal government increased the number of private liquor stores allowed in the province, the number of alcohol-related deaths increased, according to a newly released study.

"Our job is just to put the inconvenient truth out there," said Tim Stockwell, the lead author of the study published in the journal Addiction and the director of the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. at the University of Victoria. "We've opened up a bit of a Pandora's box."

Between 2003 and 2008 the number of private liquor stores in B.C. nearly doubled to 977. At the same time the number of government liquor stores decreased only slightly by 10.4 percent to 199.

Entering the study, Stockwell said, he thought the overall increase in outlets would have an effect, but was surprised to see the association between private stores and increased deaths.

"A conservative estimate is that rates of alcohol-related death increased by 3.25 percent for each 20 percent increase in private store density," according to the report's abstract.

There were 12,000 alcohol-related deaths in B.C. during the six year period of the study and roughly 350 of them could be attributed to the growth in the number of private stores, said Stockwell.

Private stores are "nimbler" at responding to their local markets, are open longer hours and are more likely than government stores to fail to properly check customers identification, he said. A previous survey of 180 private stores found "strange things" happening, including the serving of people who were underage or already drunk, he said.

Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall predicted in 2002 that increasing liquor outlets would lead to more alcohol-related harm, and in 2008 reported that the situation was getting worse, said Stockwell. And yet the government has failed to act, he said. "They've known about this for some time."

The minister responsible for alcohol regulation, Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman, is outside B.C. and unavailable, said a ministry spokesperson. She provided a statement saying the government has not accepted applications for new private liquor stores since 2002 and that it is "satisfied with the current mix of public and private retail liquor outlets."

The executive director for the private liquor store group Alliance of Beverage Liscensees, Kim Haakstad, did not immediately return The Tyee's call.

Update: Brian Gardiner, a spokesperson for the BCGEU, the union representing people who work in government liquor stores, said the union welcomes Stockwell's report. "The report supports a lot of the arguments we've made," he said. The government is right to limit the expansion of private liquor stores any further, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus