Liquor Laws in Ontario

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


Written by Sean Kelly (cannon.ca contributor)

Early this semester, on the 14th of September, I was found committing an offence contrary to Ontario’s Liquor Licence Act – being a person under 19 years consuming liquor at The Brass Taps (a.k.a. The Keg). The on-campus police were notified and I was issued a $130 fine. On top of that, I was informed that, as per University policy, I was barred from being served liquor at both The Brass Taps and Gryphs until my twentieth birthday.

The most upsetting thing, though, was that all this occurred less than three days before I turned 19. Even though I was a stupid, immature kid at the time, I’d suddenly become a smart, responsible drinker within a scant 71 hours! I tried to reason with the officer who issued the fine, but that got me nowhere. I was given some words of wisdom (something along the lines of ‘Well, then, that was pretty stupid of you . . .’ and ‘the law is the law . . .’), then unceremoniously escorted out of the establishment and told to have a good night. Yeah, right.

A few things upset me even more than the punishments, though.

First of all, I had been drinking responsibly. I wasn’t impaired. Heck, I’d been sharing a drink with a friend who had only wanted half of her beer. Meanwhile, outside, you couldn’t walk across campus without stumbling over a drunk, first-year student (more than half of whom are underage, including me at the time). On my way home, I saw a student throwing up the bushes that line Winegard Walk. Others were jumping off walls and down stairs – I saw one unfortunate guy do a belly flop on the pavement. This made me wonder: if the police truly do care about the well-being of underage students, then why were they wasting their time punishing me for drinking responsibly and under supervision? Why weren’t they outside making sure that impaired students were getting home safely on the bus or in a cab, or making sure that they weren’t hurting themselves? I’m sure I must be wrong, but I can’t help but doubt that the management at The Brass Taps called the police because they were honestly concerned for my welfare. Most likely, they were more worried about the legal repercussions that could arise if they didn’t follow the rules.

This brings me to my second worry. Why are we so often taught to follow the rules, even when many rules don’t make sense? At age 18, we Canadian citizens are considered responsible enough for our actions to be tried in court as an adult. We are also mature enough to vote, marry, gamble, own a gun, and buy pornography (or star in it). At 18 years of age, we are also considered old enough to join the army; old enough to kill and die at the say of the federal government. You can start driving at 16, but God Forbid! don’t you think about drinking even a minute before midnight on your 19th birthday – you aren’t mature enough.

Is it healthy for us to enforce laws that don’t make sense, and then expect people to respect these same laws? That night, I didn’t learn to respect Ontario’s laws, despite the punishment. I was told that I must follow the rules; that I should blindly obey the letter of the law, rather than think for myself and interpret the spirit of the law. It is not good to give us the impression that some rules are made to be broken, and that you just have to be sly enough to do so. This is a problem with our society, and we must find a way to fix it.

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