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Liquor Act unfair, says Trapper owner

Andrew Rankin
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, August 6, 2009

INUVIK - The owner of the Mad Trapper is firing back at the Liquor Licensing Board after his bar had its liquor licence suspended twice in as many months. Rick Adams says the NWT Liquor Act is unfair to bar owners and it's about time the territorial government makes changes to it.

"We need a spirit of co-operation and a less punitive and restrictive system," he said. "Right now there's little protection for owners in the current system."

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Rick Adams, Mad Trapper Lounge owner, said having his liquor licence suspended between July 21 and 27 cost him tens of thousands of dollars. - Andrew Rankin/NNSL photo

The Mad Trapper Lounge was closed from July 21 to July 27 for serving alcohol to an intoxicated patron on May 3. The Mackenzie Road establishment was also closed in May for two days and fined $500 after police found a man drunk and unsupervised at the bar.

In both cases the penalties were handed down at a hearing by the Liquor Licensing Board, which is charged to enforce the Liquor Act.

Adams said those penalties were far too severe for the nature of the incidents and believes that fines alone should have been enough. He said the government should implement a fine system whereby the accused is brought to a hearing only after receiving a set amount of fines.

"Don't get me wrong, those are serious. But if a person is caught, say, four times in a row then they should lose their liquor licence," he said.

The hearing is overseen by a team of licensing board officials who decide whether a penalty is in order after a government-appointed lawyer conducts his case and cross examines of the accused. Repeat offenders are penalized more heavily.

Adams thought the government would consider going to a type of graduated fining system when it opened a review of the act in 2005. The act falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Finance. The review included getting feedback from territorial stakeholders, including liquor establishment owners - many of whom shared Adams' view. The act was overhauled in 2007, but Adams said liquor establishments are still being hit with outrageous penalties.

Margaret Melhorn, deputy minister of finance, said a graduated system is in place, but focuses on less serious infractions. She said not properly caring for a intoxicated patron or serving alcohol to an intoxicated customer are deemed too serious for such a practice. The hearing is there to allow establishment owners to argue their case, she added.

But Adams said that's not the case.

"An individual can come in representing the liquor board, write me up, that piece of paper goes to headquarters and my business is doomed. A business can get wiped out by one offence."

Adams said the shutdown cost the Mad Trapper about $30,000. He said others suffered, including the employees he had to lay off, and the taxi drivers who missed fares.

Adams said he usually hires more than enough bouncers to monitor the bar to keep it safe. But he said it's unrealistic to think that every intoxicated patron will be caught promptly.

"We offer a safe, friendly environment and we watch what we do. If I was a liquor inspector I could go to any liquor establishment on a Friday night and find you an infraction."

He said if the harsh penalties keep coming, it's clear what the Trapper's future will be.

"There's no doubt about it, we'll have to close. That's where we're heading," he said.