Vancouver’s liquor laws need an overhaul more radical than the city is willing to offer

Overbearing liquor laws aren’t keeping anyone safer


(Joseph Keller)


The city of Vancouver is once again looking to residents for input on how municipal liquor laws should be changed. A survey went up on the city’s website earlier this month looking for opinions on subjects like allowing live music in bars until later in the evening and allowing venues to serve drinks at art-related events.

One thing to keep in mind is that these are city bylaws, not provincial bylaws, on the table. This means that topics such as the drinking and driving laws or legal drinking age are not up for change, and nobody is calling for such measures to be loosened.

This survey acts as a follow-up to one conducted in April, which was responded to by almost 9,000 people. The last survey resulted in overwhelming support for alcohol service in a greater variety of venues—including events such as outdoor Christmas markets—and less restrictions on bars with outdoor patios. It also showed a strong disapproval for existing laws that keep beer and wine out of most supermarkets.

A theme amongst all of the preferences is that these policies are commonplace almost everywhere else in the western world. Take a trip over to continental Europe to experience a whole new way of life, where open container laws are nonexistent and beer, wine, and spirits are available in any supermarket. Amazingly, European society has yet to fall apart due to this relaxed approach.

From the looks of it, city officials seem to be looking to make Vancouver’s notoriously overbearing liquor bylaws at least a bit more relaxed. If this is an attempt to shed Vancouver’s “no fun city” reputation, then the officials are probably going to have to take things farther than this survey suggests they’re willing to go. Still, this could be a step in the right direction for the city, assuming that the findings of the survey are heeded by city officials.

The question that needs to be asked is how restrictive our liquor bylaws really need to be to keep people safe. The city says it aims to “reduce the negative influence liquor can have on public safety, health, well-being and community.” It makes sense to take steps to discourage and reduce public drunkenness and harshly penalise people who put others in danger by drinking and getting behind the wheel, but nobody is going to get hurt if someone brings a 6-pack to a beach or even walks down the street with a tallboy. As long as the city keeps this nanny-state approach while adjusting its bylaws, we won’t see any meaningful change.

It’s unlikely that this step will go nearly as far as many survey respondents likely had in mind. For example, the city may allow beer to be sold at beaches within the confines of of city-operated beer gardens, but it will be a long time before we no longer have to hide the beer we bring along with us for a day on the sand. Change comes slowly, as frustrating as that may be.


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