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Officials report few issues with 'open-field' liquor licence at major events

Province experimented with pilot project at Squamish and Pemberton festivals



Attendees to major Sea to Sky music festivals this summer were permitted for the first time to carry alcohol around freely — with certain restrictions.

And despite initial concerns around overconsumption and minors accessing alcohol, officials and event producers alike have reported few issues with the "open-field" liquor licences put in place at events like the Pemberton Music Festival and Squamish Valley Music Festival (SVMF).

"It was a non-issue. Guess what? People can do it, be responsible and be just fine," said Paul Runnals, executive director of the SVMF, selected by the province as the largest event in B.C. to adopt the open-field policy as a pilot project.

Patrons of legal drinking age were permitted to leave the mainstage beer garden with alcohol and carry it around the Tantalus field between 1 and 9 p.m. Beer garden service continued until midnight.

While Squamish RCMP expressed concerns about the potential impact on security, particularly around the possibility of minors coming into possession of alcohol, Sgt. Brian Cumming said police encountered few problems throughout the four-day event, Aug. 6 to 9.

"It really was a lot less of an issue than we thought it might be," he said.

The initiative went so smoothly that RCMP allowed producers to expand the open-field area to the adjoining Garibaldi field on the festival's final night.

Runnals is hoping for a full-site liquor licence in 2016.

"I would like to see a full-site licence for sure," he said. "It's been continually proven around the world, in Ontario and across Canada, that full-site licensing doesn't change the dynamics of the crowd. Yeah, there's going to be a few jackasses, but those people exist whether or not you have that full-site licensing."

While Cumming said he's willing to discuss the possibility of a full-site licence in the future, he doesn't want it to extend past the 9 o'clock cutoff time. "I'm not that comfortable making the time later because you get into the dark hours and it's more difficult to control things," he said.

Under the new policy, roving security was ramped up at SVMF in 2015, Runnals said. An undercover surveillance team was also dedicated solely to liquor infractions.

At the Pemberton Music Festival, patrons were permitted to carry alcohol purchased from the beer gardens throughout the festival grounds, although only until 4 p.m. daily. While Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair said there were few issues at the July 15 to 19 event, he declined to comment further as he did not work the festival. A spokesperson from event producer Huka Entertainment was not available for comment by press time.

"Overall, whole-site licensing has made events more family-friendly, with liquor inspectors and local police reporting that fewer people become noticeably intoxicated," wrote a spokesperson for the Ministry of Small Business, Red Tape Reduction and Responsible for Liquor in an email.

For years, Whistler officials lobbied Victoria to relax liquor licensing at local events to allow for a more festival-like experience. The cycling race, GranFondo Whistler, served as a test case in 2013 when minors were permitted in an enclosed, licensed area. Prior to that, attendees were corralled into a beer garden away from family members with minors.


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