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Think Supermarket Alcohol Sales Risk Public Safety? Put A Cork In It

06/19/2017 10:48 EDT | Updated 06/19/2017 10:50 EDT

Council has voted. To the casual observer, it seems like Vision Vancouver has led the charge in finally liberating alcohol sales in Vancouver, something it has refused to support for many months. More careful review shows quite the opposite. In another sneaky Vision move, they have managed to appear to listen and take action, while actually doing the opposite. This is something of a pattern with Vision, so no one should be surprised.

You might think liquor can now be sold in supermarkets, but wait, the restrictions are so onerous that at present, there are only two supermarkets in Vancouver which would qualify to sell liquor in a store within a store model. Two. Great.

wine grocery store

(Photo: Halfpoint via Getty Images)

Vision councillor Geoff Meggs, interviewed on CBC , said that he had to strike a balance between easier access and public health. He said that the health officer who spoke to city council said that liberalizing alcohol sales will lead to more death and alcohol abuse. To follow that logic through, I guess we could say that we should actually just ban alcohol altogether. I mean, if we are talking public safety as a priority.

Health officers have a duty to promote public safety, so of course they will say that they prefer less access to alcohol, but Councillor Meggs has ignored one very important view in this discussion. The view of the Vancouver public, who overwhelmingly prefer more convenient access to alcohol, like in the U.S., U.K., Europe and, well, most every western country.

Canada, with it's far more restricted alcohol access, has a higher rate of drunk driving deaths than the U.S. In fact, we have one of the worst drunk driving rates amongst wealthy countries. You would think that more restricted access would improve our standing, not make it one of the worst, so that seems to suggest that more restricted access does not equal better stats as regards alcohol abuse. Further, the death rate by alcohol in Canada is nearly double the U.K., where booze can be purchased almost anywhere. Every supermarket, gas station and corner store. So, again, if access to alcohol was the issue, wouldn't it be far higher in the U.K.?

This is truly a made up problem to support an anti-liberalization position.

Washington State had 168 alcohol-related driving deaths in 2014. In B.C., in 2013 it was 112 and it dropped to 54 in 2014. That was because of tougher rules and enforcement, not any limiting of access. Washington's population is about 40 per cent larger than B.C.'s, so we are not seeing significantly higher rates, despite the very easy access to alcohol in gas stations, Trader Joe's and everywhere in between. Further, the U.S. overall has a slightly lower rate of alcohol-related deaths than Canada. The public safety angle should be more about education and promotion of safe habits, because that is shown to make a difference -- not restricting access.

Speaking of Trader Joe's, there is often the concern expressed that supermarkets are not able to properly regulate sales to avoid underage sales. This is more fear mongering without basis. Take Trader Joe's or Costco. They are diligent about training and making sure that alcohol is sold only to people old enough to purchase. Why? Because if they were to make a mistake, they could lose their liquor license and that would be very costly. In B.C., we allow private restaurants to serve alcohol to patrons. Imagine that: private restaurants rather than government-run restaurants. Why is that allowed if the concern is so great? Because it is monitored and regulated, and so would private liquor sale be, just as it is already in private liquor stores. This is truly a made up problem to support an anti-liberalization position.

wine shelves

(Photo: Urbancow via Getty Images)

Professor Tim Stockwell of the Centre for Addictions B.C. in Victoria, also interviewed on CBC radio, states unequivocally that these new laws are going to be dangerous for public safety in Vancouver, but as already noted, the stats do not bear this out in jurisdictions where laws are more liberal. He feels that these "liberalizations" are "the thin edge of a wedge." He says that there are more alcohol-related deaths in Canada than gun deaths. Nice job finding that stat in a country with very restrictive gun laws. You can twist stats and fear mongering to support your views. Vision Vancouver relies on the "expertise" of health officers who assert the same alarmist views. Or, more accurately, just one health officer who presented to city council.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health released a study comparing alcohol-related health issues, and Quebec ranked last. Quebec has the most liberal access to alcohol in the country and ranks right at the bottom in this study. Go figure.

So despite this, Geoff Meggs and Vision feel that they need to protect us from ourselves. I hate to use the term "nanny state," but it's apt in this case. This is as good as Vision's mantra. "We know what is good for you" yet the facts do not support their views and the public is strongly in favour of wider access. It clearly doesn't matter to Vision what you and I would like, because they feel that they have an altruistic responsibility to protect us. They like to sell the idea that they have agreed to a compromise position and liberalized liquor access when, really, it's more spin.

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