Vancouver
2 min

Booze hounding

Why the BC liquor board is punishing Rio

Having enjoyed pizza and beer while watching movies at Portland’s Bagdad theatre, I was one of those cheering when Corinne Lea applied for a licence to serve alcohol at live events at her Rio Theatre, on Broadway at Commercial Dr, while maintaining a dry movie house the rest of the week.

Brilliant, I thought; the evolution of yet another way to mix and match our love of food, drink and entertainment — and save a lovely theatre from the bankruptcy suffered by other local theatres.

Her approach was a compromise in itself: Lea didn’t apply to serve alcohol during the films as the Bagdad does. She planned to limit the alcohol to live performances and lock it up on movie nights.

Lea recently got half her wish when the notoriously back-glancing BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch licensed her for live events. But in return, the Rio would never be allowed to show another film. Not, mind you, never be allowed to serve alcohol while the projector is on — rather, never show another film, period.

Bizarre, I hear you say. After all, alcohol is available to audiences at local sports venues. Adults are allowed to drink at the Rogers Arena while Canucking even if accompanied by kids. What’s going on here? Why are sports-goers privileged while artists and East Vancouver audiences are punished? Who starts the riots in this city, anyway?

The liquor board’s halfway measure (also known as Lea’s punishment for going public with her cause) threatens the Friends of Dorothy series of gay and gay- sensibility films that Xtra has been proud to sponsor. It hurts the gay community, Out on Screen and smaller film festivals. It also threatens the very survival of the Rio and the loss of a vital and necessary local movie theatre with a community feel.

What’s wrong with closing the liquor cabinet and allowing movies some nights? For that matter, what is wrong with watching a flick with a beer in hand on Monday night and then coming back on Friday to see a music performance or drag show, again with a beer in hand?

Put aside the justifications offered by power-hungry bureaucrats and their political servants and ask yourself: what is wrong with enjoying a beer while watching a movie?

In a 2001 feature in Xtra Vancouver, “Policing Morality,” University of Toronto professor of criminology Mariana Valverde analyzed how liquor laws and regulations, and their enforcement, are used to control the morality, sexual behaviour and even social mixing of Canadians.

Valverde’s research into decades of liquor-inspector reports and adjudications reveals that underpinning these rules is an ugly mix of prudery, homophobia, racism (especially targeting First Nations people) and sexism (keeping women and men separate in bars for decades after the Second World War, for example). Not to mention a heavy salting of bigotry toward working class people (especially “Irishmen” and “Newfies”).

These prejudices and fears — and an almost desperate desire to control what people do and how they interact to stop activities considered “immoral” — lead to a combination of silly, obnoxious and overly restrictive liquor laws (and poor enforcement decisions) that restrict people’s freedom of expression and choice, and can even ruin the lives of some customers and businesspeople.

No wonder the influential sports companies are allowed to sell booze to rake in big bucks at a Canucks game, while an artist-run small business — on the dangerously libertine Eastside, no less — is put at risk and its customers denied freedom of choice.

“I don’t see why the government should control our artistic expression,” says Lea. “By cutting out movies, they are silencing a huge part of our voice. And also silencing community groups and people who use our facility, like Friends of Dorothy, the Queer Film Festival and DOXA documentary festival.”

Cut the crap, Victoria: let Corinne Lea save her business — and in the process add a bit more joy to East Vancouver. Premier Clark, you may even save some jobs in these difficult times.