Recent trouble with liquor and by-law inspectors has some wondering if queer venues are being intentionally targetted.
In the last few months alone, three venues have experienced problems with provincial liquor inspectors. On Feb 17, a lesbian event called Heart-On Burlesque was held at the Saw Gallery and was considered a great success, even though, days earlier, its special occasion liquor license had been revoked.
The Centretown Pub had its liquor license suspended in February for having an overcrowded patio last July. And then The Edge nightclub had its liquor license suspended in March for reasons that included promoting immoderate consumption and offering liquor as a contest prize.
As well, Holy Fuck, an event that takes place near the time of Pride, had its license revoked in 2004, and last year was heavily scrutinized by the inspector, although nothing inappropriate was found.
Rosie Karkari, who organized Heart-On Burlesque, first felt things were going wrong when she received an e-mail from the city of Ottawa’s by-law enforcement office just one week before the event. In the e-mail, she was asked to provide more details about the event, in case a special license for an adult entertainment parlour was required.
With the way things were going, Karkari thought it might be a good idea to also check in with the province to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems with her liquor license application. The provincial liquor license is separate from the city’s event license.
Karkari told Capital Xtra the liquor inspector had problems with several parts of the planned event, getting hung up on words found on a publicity flyer like “erotic” and “burlesque” and asking her to define “TransFolk.”
“I called him and he had had no intention of actually calling me. The first thing that he told me was, ‘Okay, we’ll see you [at the event]. We’re coming down to turn down your license and take away your booze and any proceeds, all the money that you have at the door, also.'”
The event was forced to proceed without a liquor license, although Karkari says the whole dispute rested on a technicality. Although the event wasn’t specifically planned as a fundraiser for the Sexual Assault Support Centre, it was decided that proceeds would go there. But the special occasion permit Karkari had taken out was for a reception and not for a fundraiser.
She says she asked the inspector if she could just change the application from reception to fundraiser, but the inspector wouldn’t allow it. Karkari says the inspector told her, “You’re not going to be serving alcohol because the event’s not going to happen.”
The Alcohol And Gaming Commission Of Ontario (AGCO) regulates the sale and serving of alcohol in the province and is responsible for liquor inspectors. Ab Campion, an AGCO spokesperson, denied the commission specifically targets queer events.
“Absolutely not. We wouldn’t have reason to,” he says. “That application was turned down for the very simple reason that the application bears false information on the application. If the applicant had filled out the proper information, there probably wouldn’t have been any problems at all.”
Campion says false information was supplied in several areas on the application. For example, he says, the organizer wrote that the event was only for invited guests, but in reality tickets were being sold to the general public.
When asked what training the inspectors might have to prepare them to deal with the queer community, Campion says the inspectors in the Ottawa area are seconded OPP officers working for AGCO on a full-time basis and he understands all OPP officers go through sensitivity training.
Karkari believes the city was behind the problems, although in the end, the city allowed the event to proceed without a special municipal license.
“It’s city property and they really don’t want queer things happening at the event.”
In an e-mail to Capital Xtra, Linda Anderson, the city’s manager of enforcement and inspections, says By-Law Services is obliged to react to any formal complaint it receives under city bylaws. The information pertaining to the event was forwarded to her office by a “concerned member of the public.”
She says the purpose of the investigation was to determine whether the event would fall under the definition of an adult entertainment parlour, thereby requiring a specific license.
“Our staff had extensive correspondence with the event organizers during the investigation and a brief site inspection revealed that no license was required,” Anderson wrote.
David Pepper is the director of community development for the Ottawa Police Service and a member of the Ottawa Police Service Liaison Committee For The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgendered Communities. He helped facilitate communications between Heart-On Burlesque and By-Law Services.
“I have contact with By-Law on various issues… and I’ve always found a willingness, certainly by the people that I’ve dealt with at By-Law, in terms of the management and the director, to be very open to working with the community.”
But Pepper concedes By-Law Services might benefit from becoming involved with the liaison committee.
“That may, in fact, be worth pursuing. We could be a point of entry both for By-Law to tap into the [queer] community and vice versa.”