The province is contemplating changing how it punishes pubs, restaurants and liquor stores that violate liquor rules that ban over-serving and selling to minors.
Business owners have asked government for a more flexible penalty system and a month-long online consultation running to Sept. 30 asks stakeholders for input on the options.
One possibility to be explored is lower or higher penalties.
According to a government discussion paper released Friday, B.C. penalties are stiffer than most other provinces.
“Decreasing penalties would bring British Columbia in closer alignment with the average among the provinces,” it says, noting government must balance business hardship and the need for deterrence for public safety.
A first offence for a B.C. liquor establishment typically means a one- to three-day suspension for overcrowding and 10 days or a $7,500 fine for selling to a minor (the first-offence maximum is $10,000 and 15 days for serving minors.)
Alberta bars have a choice of paying a fine or serving a suspension – which is one of the ideas up for consideration – and most operators there choose the fine, which is typically $500 to $1,500 on a public safety first offence.
The stiffest penalties are in Ontario, where suspensions of 21 days and longer are are common.
Another issue is perceived unfairness of the current system for different business types.
Food-primary outlets can keep on serving food during a suspension, while liquor-primary bars and retail stores must close entirely.
That raises the question of whether fines are a better option, the paper says.
It adds the penalties must spur liquor violators to voluntary compliance and not be so low they’re merely treated as a cost of doing business.