Liquor infraction info trickles out

July 10, 2004, was a night of bedlam at the Kopper King bar, according to Yukon liquor inspectors. There were six “severely intoxicated”…

July 10, 2004, was a night of bedlam at the Kopper King bar, according to Yukon liquor inspectors.

There were six “severely intoxicated” people stumbling and slurring their words, a guy leaving the bar clutching a beer in his fist and a barroom brawl that saw three men beat a fellow badly enough to send him to hospital.

It wasn’t an isolated night.

Between 2003 and 2004, the bar received six warning letters for infractions similar to this one.

The bar was handed one suspension. It was never served.

On October 31, 2003, inspectors found the bar overcrowded; they saw drunk people staggering around the premises and, outside, several costumed individuals were engaged in mock swordplay on the Alaska Highway.

When inspectors returned for another check around 4 a.m., they found people still nursing drinks — more than two hours after last call.

It took more than a month for the Yukon Liquor Corp. to issue a 14-day suspension. That came on December 19, 2003.

The Kopper King appealed, and the liquor corp. revoked the suspension on a technicality.

“As it is felt that this matter was not brought before the board of directors for an appeal hearing in a timely manner, we, the Yukon Liquor Corporation, are withdrawing the suspension order,” reads the undated, unaddressed letter meant for the Kopper King.

These facts were contained in documents obtained by The News last week through an access to information request.

The News received about half of the information it asked for on Yukon Liquor Act infractions and enforcement in the Kopper King and Capital Hotel from January 2003 to December 2004.

Now the newspaper will pay nearly $1 per page for the remainder of the information, which is considered public according to the Access to Information, Protection of Privacy Act.

The newspaper received copies of all the warning letters and suspensions issued to the two bars.

But the licensed premise check reports — which inspectors draft after checking bars for infractions, like overserving, serving minors and overcrowding — will cost the paper $329.

There are 360 pages of reports completed over those two years at the Kopper King and Capital Hotel.

The liquor corp. estimates it will take 11 hours to locate, retrieve and prepare the reports for disclosure by striking out any personal information about individuals.

The cost covers both the request for records from the Kopper King and the Capital because they were “similar in nature,” according to the government.

Since The News relaunched an investigation into liquor act enforcement and infractions in the territory, a number of anonymous sources have come forward saying the government is not enforcing the territory’s laws.

Ignoring liquor infractions, like overcrowding, overserving and serving minors, contributes to a chaotic atmosphere and fosters drug use, trafficking and violence in Yukon bars.

These allegations have persisted since 2004, when the Yukon New Democratic Party began its own investigation.

The Capital Hotel’s record over 2003 and 2004 is a little better, according to the government’s documents.

However, it also received six warning letters for several infractions, including overcrowding, serving drunks and having liquor taken off premises.

Though warning letters were sent, there appears to have been little follow through.

Things are handled differently in BC, where liquor laws are better enforced.

A quick look at British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licencing Board’s website shows that suspensions are dished out regularly for infractions similar to those documented in the Kopper King and Capital.

One bar received a one-day suspension after inspectors saw liquor removed from an establishment.

Another was slapped with a four-day suspension for being overcrowded.

A third got a 14-day suspension after it was found supplying liquor to minors.

These are just a few of the dozens of suspensions handed out to BC bars and restaurants detailed each year since 2001 on the province’s website.

BC has more than 8,000 licencees and 30 inspectors on its roster. The Yukon has just over 300 licencees and, currently, one inspector.

But over the past five years, the number of suspension orders has dwindled in the Yukon.

In 2001-’02, bar owners were handed 11 licence suspensions.

In 2002-‘03 there were seven. In 2003-‘04 there were three.

In 2004-‘05, there was just one.

That trajectory proves the liquor corp. has been effective, according to an October 6 letter from corporation vice-president Virginia Labelle to The News.

“By encouraging an open dialogue with licencees, and providing appropriate training on their responsibilities under the liquor act, there has been markedly less need to use enforcement tools such as suspensions,” reads Labelle’s letter.

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