NEWS

Le Pionnier, Montreal Bar, Told To Ban Rap Or Forget About Getting A Liquor Licence

03/22/2012 04:23 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - The new operators of a suburban Montreal bar promise to showcase the big hair of 1980s tribute bands, stacks of jumbo chicken wings and, perhaps, even a mechanical bull.

But to ensure the watering hole could add the critical component of booze to that list they had to promise to do away with one thing: live hip-hop and rap performances.

Quebec's liquor-control board told the incoming managers of Le Pionnier, or The Pioneer, to outlaw the two music genres if they wanted any hope of acquiring a licence to serve booze.

An anti-racism group says the move smacks of discrimination against black people and a Facebook page is calling for a boycott of the bar. But the venue's co-owner, who took over the bar last fall, said she had no choice but to agree because the joint needs to serve suds to survive.

"My first reaction was (that) it's very discriminatory," said Diane Marois, who co-owns the bar with her husband, Ron Bracken.

"I don't think it's right in the first place, but... I'd rather be up and running with a limited venue as opposed to being closed."

A spokeswoman for the liquor board said it's "normal" in Quebec for permit applications to include conditions that forbid specific types of musical acts, like hip hop or rap.

In the case of Le Pionnier, Joyce Tremblay said local police asked the regulator to include a clause that called for a ban of live hip-hop and rap performances.

She did not have a problem with the condition when asked whether it was a form of discrimination to single out a specific type of music.

"Not at all," said the board's Tremblay who, when pressed on the subject, referred any further questions to local police.

"We are the guardians of the permits — a permit is not a right, it's a privilege."

Montreal police were not immediately available to respond to an interview request to discuss the matter.

Marois said police first expressed concerns about gang activity to her when she booked a well-known hip-hop artist to perform at Le Pionnier in late January.

"We saw no problem in it," said Marois, adding the local performer has a good image. "Apparently, the problem was that (performer) also promotes newer bands, and one of his newer bands was the root of all evil."

Marois said the regulator revoked the bar's licence, telling them they did not have a valid permit. At the time, she was in the process of transferring the liquor permit from the venue's previous licence holder.

Le Pionnier has since obtained a temporary licence and began serving alcohol on Thursday for the first time in two months.

The case of Le Pionnier, a long-time fixture in the leafy, waterfront Pointe-Claire village, has stirred concerns in the community.

Among Canada's most-populated provinces, Quebec appears to be the only one that banishes specific types of live music in the liquor-licensing process, according to information provided by officials in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

A spokeswoman for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario said that although technically possible it's "highly unlikely" the organization would ever try to impose such a condition.

"Any condition has to speak directly to a public safety issue and you would have to make a very strong case that... having a certain type of music would make the venue inherently unsafe," Lisa Murray said.

In Quebec, a prominent anti-racism advocate criticized the provincial liquor board for targeting hip hop and rap in several cases over the years.

Fo Niemi warned that such bans stamp out artistic expression, allow sweeping generalizations and border on racial profiling.

"It sends a very bad message to everyone that basically we have to ban hip hop because hip hop leads to crime and disturbance," said Niemi, executive director of Quebec's Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.

"You read between the lines and basically it's about black people."

He said authorities should focus instead on ensuring bars improve security measures. Niemi also said bar owners don't want to fight the conditions because of the potentially high cost of a legal battle.

Others blame the bar for caving.

A Facebook page calling for a boycott of the bar appeared after word spread about the ban. In the first 24 hours after the page was created, it had attracted nearly 250 followers — including one who wanted to organize a protest in front of the bar.

For her part, Marois was apologetic.

Having already run Le Pionnier with her husband in the 1980s and 90s, she said she's surprised how much influence police now wield when it comes to the operations of bars.

"I feel the police... they're stepping out of their bounds," she said.