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Liquor Board bans sale of liquor at jazz festival

Organizer says 'no' to beer garden



Ticketed events at Whistler Jazz on the Mountain will be alcohol free now that the B.C. liquor authority has put the kibosh on a special stadium-seating license.

The special license, which had full support from Whistler council, would have allowed the purchase and consumption of alcohol at Whistler Olympic Plaza during ticketed concert events throughout the festival, running from Sept. 2 to 4.

It was to be a key experience at the festival but the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch has refused to grant a permit for on-site drinking, except in a specially designated beer garden, on the basis that it's a public safety issue.

But organizer Arnold Schwisberg says there will be no beer garden at the event.

"We are not going to be kicked back to beer garden," he says.

"This is not the promise that I had made to the community."

Schwisberg says that a beer garden would put them in a worse position financially than if they did away with booze sales altogether. There are variable costs attached to liquor service that remain the same regardless of the level of service, while the revenues have been sliced "half or worse" by having a designated beer garden, which might force festival-goers to choose between having a beer and being with their family.

"We don't say that you need a drink to enjoy the festival but a (non-alcoholic) alternative, and I'm not telling tales (out of) school here, is a much smaller-margin product," he says.

He blasts the LCLB's "archaic" decision as being out of touch with policies nationwide. He points to the decision made by the Ontario government in June to modernize its liquor laws, which abolished the need for roped off beer tents at festivals and events.

Schwisberg - a practicing liquor lawyer in both B.C. and Ontario - says that since then, there hasn't been a single alcohol-related public safety issue. Now, he can't get a straight answer from the LCLB on why the sale of liquor at a family-oriented jazz festival constitutes a public safety concern.

"They have never, in a single communication to me, articulated to me what they meant by public safety," he says.

"This is a knee-jerk reaction. This is not an adequately considered answer. It is an unreasonable condition. It is an improper exercise of their jurisdiction," he says.

Councillor Chris Quinlan says the "brutal" decision by the liquor board is at odds with the support from the community.

"It's endemic of a situation that's been going on in Whistler for decades. We have festivals and events in town that are constantly hamstrung by rulings that are made or legislation that is interpreted by the liquor license control board," he says.

Meanwhile, Schwisberg says there is still some hope. The LCLB does have the ability to reconsider the matter and he hopes that community support will be strong enough to sway a change of heart.

The issue has been put on the agenda for the upcoming council meeting this Tuesday and he is urging the community to show up and voice its support for the issue.

"I think sending the message to the world that we are the most primitive liquor regulators on the planet is not a good thing for B.C.," he says.

For more on this story pick up the Pique this week.