Thursday, July 23, 2009

Did The Killers Kill the Liquor at Thunderbird Arena?

The new Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre is currently applying for an amendment to their liquor-primary licence. The matter will be coming before Metro Vancouver's Electoral Area committee for approval this Friday and there seems to be a significant hurdle in the way: as a result of past violations, the RCMP does not support it.

Thunderbird Arena currently has a liquor-primary licence which covers the seating area in Father Bauer arena as well as the location of the former Thunderbar. When the new facility was erected around Father Bauer arena, the new areas were not covered under the existing liquor licence. As a result, UBC Athletics is applying for an amendment to the existing liquor-primary licence to cover the seating area and floor of the new arena. This application is not only in UBC's interests, VANOC wants it too. It's in the venue agreement, and so UBC does as VANOC wants.

As required by Metro Vancouver, some public meetings were held to discuss the plans and get feedback. Predictably, and in this case fortunately, the UNA objected to some of the items in the application. Because the process of obtaining an amendment to a liquor licence is tedious, Athletics threw in everything they think they might want at some time in the future, even if they don't need or want it at present, to leave themselves more flexibility. This resulted in some absurdities, such as proposed serving hours stretching all the way from 9 am until 2 am, and the licencing of an outdoor patio area that they currently don't have any use for.

The 9 am start is interesting to me; I don't think there was any particular reason for it other than that they were asking for everything they could. By doing so, UBC is now on the record as not objecting to morning drinking, starting as early as 9. On the application form the reason put forth for the early start time was so that people can drink mimosas – maybe it should have listed Beerios instead.

Regardless, things were going relatively smoothly until the RCMP dropped a bombshell. In a four-page letter (linked above; highly recommended reading), S/Sgt Kevin Kenna outlines some serious violations that have occurred at past events in the arena and that they do not feel Athletics is capable of living up to their responsibilities. What happened to prompt this strong objection?

"In order to promote events in the interim while the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch is considering the application, UBC has been granted a Temporary Change to its existing licence in order to allow a beer garden during certain events at the arenas. Management of the Temporary Change licence has been problematic and the Licensing Branch has had to rescind its approval after complaints about beer garden use at a recent concert." - David Boote, planner with Metro Vancouver

So Athletics got a Temporary Change, but that was rescinded due to poor management. At the next concert, they instead got a Special Occasion Licence (SOL). How did that work out?

"At a recent event where a Special Occasion License was obtained for a beer garden, there was such blatant abuse of liquor service (operating two beer gardens, poor security, over service) that all future events were not allowed to apply for a Special Occasion License." - S/Sgt Kenna, RCMP

Strike two. Without the Temporary Change licence and no chance at an SOL, the next event had no alcohol service. Problem solved, right?

"Despite the fact that the next concert was [non-alcoholic], both drugs and alcohol did make their way into the event. The police encountered minors in possession and consuming both alcohol and narcotics. As well, there were many inebriated persons either on the main floor or in the stands or back stage. Numerous patrons were observed smoking marijuana in the "mosh pit" as well as parts of the stands. During this event a male was "head butted" and required an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Before this event even started, there was a lot of "pre-drinking" outside the Centre and in the nearby Thunderbird Parkade." - S/Sgt Kenna, RCMP

Well, shit. There's no way these people should get a liquor licence. Ultimately though, the RCMP concludes they are willing to work with UBC to resolve the outstanding issues, but until it is all resolved, the RCMP does not support any liquor licence amendments. Brian Sullivan penned a response acknowledging past problems and promising to do better, but also trying to claim that they have an "established record of success" running licenced events. Can you imagine the fallout if such serious violations occurred repeatedly at student-organized events? I can't imagine saying "my bad" and promising to do better in the future would get you anywhere at all with the RCMP and the University. Someone please teach me how UBC gets away with this stuff.

All of this makes me worried. With liquor issues, one bad apple spoils the whole bushel. The RCMP would like to enforce every group the same way so they are not seen as playing favorites, though this doesn't happen in practice. While this approach is both fair and unfair at the same time, the result is that a small subset of troublemakers has the potential to cause real problems to the majority of groups that do follow the rules surrounding liquor regulations. Of course Athletics has promised to clean up their act, but why didn't that happen when any of the major infractions occurred in the first place? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Not only that, these are only the issues only from Thunderbird arena. Athletics also gets SOLs for Varsity games and does not follow the rules in getting those either! Their track record is established and it's dismal. Students get a bad rep for being irresponsible with alcohol but the worst violations are arising elsewhere.

The other way I see this liquor-primary licence as a problem is that currently the RCMP puts a cap on SOLs, based on how many people are supposedly attending these events in a given night. Once that cap is hit, they stop giving out SOLs for that day. For example, the RCMP will not approve SOLs for August 14th due to the Warped Tour occurring at Thunderbird Stadium even though the Warped Tour will not have any liquor service. Any night with a large event at the arena will lower the capacity for student-run events. I am also going to assume that the revenue from these concerts is going into Athletics's bottom line but that very little of it ends up going back into student programs. I would love to see evidence which suggests I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I will ever see that. The university is catering primarily to non-students, having negative impacts on student-run events; this is the War on Fun in a nutshell.

Finally, this warms my heart:

It is my belief that the UBC Athletics Department is moving too fast with their planned events at Thunderbird Centre, especially music concerts; and that profit is the main objective rather than ensuring that community interests are taken into consideration and looked after now and in the future. - S/Sgt Kenna, RCMP


Sing it, brother! This is the gospel I have been preaching far and wide. I don't want to start off on an even longer rant, but the ancillary model for UBC Athletics is broken. Too much of the department's attention is focused on increasing revenues without considering whether it is actually serving the UBC community effectively. There is not nearly enough accountability to those ultimately paying the bills and shouldering the impacts. I am immensely pleased to see that others see it the same way as well and I hope UBC is paying attention.