The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) says some charitable fundraising in Church St bars may be illegal.
During an inspection of the Black Eagle on Mar 27 an AGCO inspector told management that events including raffles, 50-50 draws or any lottery events areillegal unless the recipient charity has a licence.
Nobody from the Black Eagle would comment, but several event promoters told Xtra the bar was forced to take down posters for Mr Leatherman Toronto (MLT) events benefitting the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT).
Lisa Murray, a spokesperson for the AGCO, confirms that such events are illegal, but denies the Eagle was forced to remove the posters.
“Our inspector was at the Black Eagle and he had a couple of trainees with him,” says Murray. “Someone saw a poster promoting ACT’s draw. There was no mention of a licence on the poster. They would not have told them to take the posters down. All the inspectors would do is advise the establishment to check that you’re not promoting something that’s problematic.”
But Murray says any inspector who catches a bar actually holding such an event would record the offence.
“If something is in contravention of the criminal code and is taking place in your establishment, it’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she says. “It’s not up to our discretion. It would be written up and it would be up to the registrar. The penalties could go all the way up to revocation of licence.”
Murray says the recipient charity must obtain a licence for such draws whether they’re held in a bar or not. If the prize offered is under $50,000, it requires a licence from the city. Over $50,000 the licence comes from the AGCO.
Mary Kapogiannis, a lottery licensing officer with the City of Toronto, says such licences are only issued to registered charities. The charity pays the city a one-time fee of $25 to review their operations. If they pass the review the charity is automatically granted lottery licences, but still has to apply for one each time.
Kapogiannis says ACT has undergone such a review. But ACT did not respond to questions about the Black Eagle or about unlicenced fundraisers before Xtra’s press deadline.
Bob Watkin, a member of MLT, is planning a fundraiser at the Black Eagle on Fri, Apr 25 for an HIV-positive landed immigrant who ended up with a bill of $10,000 after a stay in hospital. The event was to have included a 50-50 draw. Watkin says he doesn’t know whether to proceed.
He says that since only registered charities can obtain licences, fundraisers for individuals which involve draws would be legally impossible.
“For the last 25 years, particularly in the worst of AIDS, these fundraisers have been held to help individuals in trouble,” he says. “In this community one of the fundamental things about its cohesiveness is our ability to help each other.”
Watkin says he phoned the AGCO the day after the Black Eagle inspection to complain.
He says he mentioned another fundraiser that was scheduled for Mar 29 at the Churchmouse and Firkin, and which was to include a raffle. The event was originally supposed to raise funds for medical expenses for Joe Jarvis, who had liver cancer. But when Jarvis died on Mar 27 the event was converted to a fundraiser for his funeral expenses.
“You’ve killed a fundraiser, I phrased it to the AGCO, to buy a headstone,” Watkin says.
In the end, according to event organizer Larry Des Rosiers, the Jarvis fundraiser did go ahead, complete with raffle, and raised $850.
Matt Pavelich, Mr Leatherman Toronto 2008, is hosting several events this month at the Black Eagle, although none involve any draws. Pavelich agrees that a crackdown could be devastating to charities.
“The People with AIDS Foundation, ACT, all these organizations get money from them,” he says. “It’s kind of a mainstay. Over time it adds up to tens of thousands of dollars.”
Watkin says he had never even heard of such a law.
“I’ve been organizing fundraisers for the past 25 years and I have never, never, ever confronted this,” he says.
Murray says the AGCO has no statistics on how many fundraisers in Ontario have been caught conducting events with unlicenced draws. She didn’t know why in 25 years of Church St fundraisers for AIDS charities the issue has never come up.
“There may or may not have been posters up,” she says. “They may or may not have been noticed.”
Murray denies it’s a new initiative, but says liquor inspectors are becoming more aware of the issue as they work more closely with the gaming side of the AGCO.
“Over the past few years there’s been a lot more charitable events,” she says. “As the liquor inspectors spend more time with the gaming people and vice versa they’re becoming more aware of what the gaming issues are.”
Watkin says he told the AGCO its inspectors target queer bars.
“I told them, ‘The growing opinion is that your enforcement far exceeds what you do in other areas of the city,'” he says. “‘People are starting to think it’s homophobic. For instance Pride and the draconian level of enforcement.'”
Pavelich agrees the AGCO is singling out queer bars.
“It appears that this is targeting,” he says. “It seems that the Eagle is receiving more than its fair share of scrutiny. It feels a little like harassment.”
Murray denies the accusation.
“We want to focus our resources on the places that could be most problematic,” she says. “The ones that have the most problems tend to be visited more often. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gay bar or a reggae bar.”