Liquor corp. close lipped

John Jones has seen drunks hanging out in the Hillcrest greenbelts clutching liquor bottles and making noise.

John Jones has seen drunks hanging out in the Hillcrest greenbelts clutching liquor bottles and making noise.

He’s seen cars broken into for loose change and stolen bicycles turn up behind the Airline Inn.

“The last thing we want is drunk people wandering around the neighbourhood while our children are riding their tricycles,” said Jones, not his real name.

He fears reprisals against himself and his family, but Jones has come forward because he’s worried about the effect loose liquor regulations are having on his community.

Some of the problems have stemmed from the Airline Inn, he said.

So, last December, Jones started looking for information on infractions and enforcement from the Yukon Liquor Corporation.

He encountered nothing but roadblocks.

“Why the secrecy if this information is meant to protect us?” asked Jones.

“You’ve got a premier here saying, ‘I’m going to get tough on crime and I’m going to get tough on drugs and I’m going to help people deal with their addictions;’ well, it seems to me that the first thing you would look at is the liquor act,” said Jones.

Under the Yukon Liquor Act “no cocktail lounge licence shall be granted except in respect to a hotel that has at least 30 bedrooms.”

The rooms have to be available for rent on a regular basis to the travelling public.

Although the Airline does have 30 bedrooms, further investigation found that five of them were not being rented out at all. They were used for storage.

Most of the others weren’t available to travellers.

Jones tried to rent rooms at the Airline Inn last January, but was told only three are ever available to the travelling public.

The rest are rented long term.

So the hotel is, for the most part, social housing, said Jones.

But it held three liquor licences, one for its lounge, another for its rooms and the last for off sales, which has now been closed.

Mixing what seems to be a social housing complex with three liquor licences is “like dynamite,” said Jones.

The Airline Inn’s lounge has been a quiet place over the past 17 months, according to documents The News received from an unnamed source this week.

The stack of premise checks shows inspectors have, for the most part, found a low-key bar where a few people hang out.

But, while inspectors were performing regular checks on the lounge, the hotel rooms were not being monitored to see if there were, in fact, 30 available for rent and whether they were up to snuff, said Jones.

According to the documents, the first mention of a room check happens on January 19th, three weeks after Jones submitted his information request.

This is an example of the government’s lackadaisical approach to enforcing the liquor act in the territory, said Jones.

A number of sources have also come forward in the last month with similar allegations.

According to these people, who have all asked for anonymity, fearing recriminations,

liquor inspectors conduct routine premise checks and report infractions.

But those reports are left to gather dust on the desks of senior managers within the corporation, according to sources.

Yukon Party members Archie Lang and political campaign chairman Craig Tuton, also a former regional director of the British Columbia and Yukon Hotel Association, and former deputy premier Peter Jenkins, who left the Yukon Party and is not seeking re-election, own bars in the territory.

Statistics from the Yukon Liquor Corporation’s annual reports indicate the number of licence suspensions issued to bars in the territory dwindled to one, in 2004/05, from 11 in 2001/02.

And, of late, getting documents out of the corporation has been problematic for the NDP, The News and others.

Take Jones.

In December, he asked the liquor corp. for the Airline Inn’s inspection reports.

He was told to file a formal access to information request.

It seemed “ridiculous” to have to file a request for what should be public information, said Jones.

“These are inspection reports and the reason they do inspections is to protect the public.”

Nevertheless, he submitted a formal request in December.

And waited.

On January 13, he received a phone call from the liquor corp. asking him to attend a hearing on January 17.

But without the information he’d asked for, he wasn’t prepared to go before the board.

“I said: ‘I don’t have the information yet so this is going to be a one-sided affair. You’ve got all the information and I don’t have anything.’

“They said: ‘Too bad, you’re not going to get your information before Tuesday.’ And they had the hearing without me.”

So he waited some more.

He finally received the information on September 26, more than nine months after he asked for it.

 “In a way it’s nice because the liquor corporation actually responded,” he added.

Inspectors checked out the rooms and made sure they were adequate, according to the documents The News received.

“But I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t taken the first step and been in their faces for months,” said Jones.