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Port Alberni bar slapped with $19,000 in liquor branch fines

Bar was over capacity, owners took too long opening door for inspectors, report says
P.A. Squash & Fitness, located on Third Avenue in Port Alberni. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

A Port Alberni bar has been slapped with a $19,000 fine after the B.C. Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch determined that it was not following regulations.

Port Alberni (P.A.) Squash & Fitness, located on Third Avenue, was fined for failing to admit entry to a liquor inspector. It was also fined for serving an intoxicated person and for having too many people in the bar. The decision was released Jan. 26, 2023.

The fines stem from two different incidents, one in February 2022 and one in April 2022. In February, an RCMP constable entered the bar to find a man passed out at a table “in clear view of the bar staff” and surrounded by empty beer bottles. The RCMP officer testified that he “had a great deal of difficulty” waking up the patron, and noted that the man had “red, glassy eyes, a breath that smelled of liquor, and spoke with slurred words.”

The owner of the bar denied that the man was intoxicated, claiming that he was “faking it” and that the RCMP officer was attempting to “embarrass” the bar owner. However, the liquor branch disagreed and fined the bar $3,000.

In the April incident, liquor inspectors arrived at the bar and found it over capacity, counting somewhere between 74 and 113 people. Although the fire commissioner lists the bar’s capacity at 137 people, the bar’s liquor licence says the capacity is 55 people.

When the inspectors attempted to speak to the bar owner, they testified that the owner began “displaying signs of agitation” and inspectors made the decision to leave and return with police for their safety. When they returned, they found the front door locked and did not receive a response after knocking and ringing the doorbell. Eventually, they went to the back door of the bar and waited for a patron to leave so that they could gain entry. It took approximately seven minutes for the inspectors to gain access to the bar.

The owner testified that the door had been locked to reduce the number of patrons in the bar and also testified that he did not know the inspectors were knocking on the door because of his hearing difficulties and the loud music at the bar.

However, the liquor branch found that the bar failed to grant “immediate entry” to the inspectors and fined the bar $15,000. It also added another fine of $1,000 for having too many people in the bar.

In his decision, General Manager’s Delegate R. John Rogers says that although the bar has “a clean compliance record,” the attitude of the bar’s owner “appears to be that he firmly believes that the Licensee is being unfairly subjected to enforcement procedures.” A liquor licence, Rogers added, is a privilege and not a right.

He warned that if this attitude does not change, “further enforcement actions will most certainly follow with the resulting consequences.”

The decision says P.A. Squash & Fitness has until Feb. 15, 2023 to pay the fines.

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