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Ottawa’s gay bars suffer dry spell

Why liquor licences were suspended at CP & Edge

OPEN AGAIN. Minor infractions closed both CP and Edge in January, but because of previous violations, both bars will stay on the radar for liquor inspectors. Credit: Marcus McCann

The spate of bars closed for licence suspensions in Ottawa has attracted the ire of some, especially after two bars in Kanata were briefly closed.

But recent licence suspensions at popular gay watering holes Centretown Pub (CP) and Edge are not related to a recent crackdown on drunk customers.

Last year, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) began to focus on over-serving violations, but for the two gay establishments, their infractions have largely been overcrowding.

In Centretown Pub’s case, there were too many people in the space, says Lisa Murray, spokesperson for the AGCO.

“There was an issue there of overcrowding,” says Murray.

Bruce Davis, CP’s manager confirms that overcrowding was an issue.

CP does not usually employ a doorperson.

CP’s suspension was longer than it might otherwise have been because they had a previous suspension for the same violation, served in February of 2006.

About 10 blocks from CP, Edge was closed as well, the club’s second liquor licence suspension since 2005. They were dinged in Jan 6, 2008, but chose to take their suspension at the beginning of this year.

“There was a fight that took place in the premises and the police were called,” Murray says. “People were arrested for fighting and one of them was intoxicated.”

“When the police were called, officers were stationed at the exits and no one was allowed in,” Murray adds. “When the patrons were leaving, they were counted as usually happens as there was also some concern that it was overcrowded, and this was part of the reason the fight may have broke out. There was a count done and they were overcrowded. There were at least 307 people in an area licensed for 256 people.”

Murray says fire departments — not the alcohol authorities — set capacity limits and that they are bound to observe the limits posted inside the establishment.

Nobody at Edge could be reached for comment.

Edge’s suspension was for 10 days, longer than normal because they had a prior five-day suspension in 2005, but it was for unrelated issue.

Murray also noted that while CP went to the AGCO board for hearings on their citations, Edge’s suspensions were “agreeds.”

“There was no hearing,” Murray confirms. “Basically the establishment said, ‘Yes, this happened. Yes, we were overcrowded. Yes, police officers came. Yes there was a fight. Yes, one of the patrons was intoxicated.’ And in the previous one, in 2005, it was an agreed offence as well. They said, “Yes, what you allege happened did happen,’ and they agreed on a five-day suspension.”

In Ottawa, a total of 47 suspensions were handed down last year, some of them to repeat-offenders. That’s out of a total of 950 licensed establishments in Ottawa, and out of 24,000 inspections done across the province in a year.

While the number of inspections has remained steady, the AGCO practices what they term “risk-based enforcement”, devoting more resources to licensees that have had past violations. Those who have not had any problems or violations are checked up on less frequently. As both CP and Edge have past violations, they are more closely observed.

Lookout owner Kelly Brant, whose establishment hasn’t been served a suspension in recent memory, says that they maintain a policy of deliberately keeping their numbers low to be on the safe side.

“We’re allowed 185 — that’s our capacity, but what we do is we keep it around 165, 170 just for that human error, or whatever, just to be on the safe side,” Brant says. “Although it’s maybe frustrating to our customers, we just keep it lower, which certainly affects sales and whatnot, but you just can’t take a chance.”

Brant says they also keep extra staff on hand to ensure that any disturbances are quickly dealt with.

Both CP and Edge have since re-opened — with a fresh coat of paint in CP’s case.

“Something just for the customers to come see,” CP’s Davis says.