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Where’s your head count?

Police target overcrowding during Pride

Pride is still dealing with allegations of Liquor Licence Act breaches from last year – but organizers say it won’t affect booze service this time around.

Last year the Alcohol And Gaming Commission Of Ontario warned organizers that the south Church St beer gardens was overcrowded, that people were jumping over barriers and those already intoxicated were being served.

“An inspector suggested to us last Pride Day that we were over capacity on one of our four licensed areas. Although we did not agree with their assessment, we did follow their instructions to empty out the beer garden to a certain extent,” says Pride co-chair Kyle Knoeck.

Knoeck says organizers were confident that they were well under capacity, but wanted to co-operate. “We were never cited for any violation.”

Despite that, Pride treasurer Russell Mathew, whose name was on the liquor permits, got a letter last December telling him he could never get an Ontario liquor permit again.

The AGCO says the letter was sent because bartenders were serving people who were already intoxicated.

“It came to our attention while our inspectors were conducting an inspection of the facility, they had noted that they were selling beer to intoxicated persons, and that is against the Liquor Licence Act,” says AGCO spokesperson Ab Campion. Campion says it will only be Mathew who is denied any future special occasion permits, not the organization.

After Mathew received the letter, Pride sent a letter back to the AGCO appealing the decision, but the reply they got in March told them the decision was final.

Pride and the AGCO have met since and have an agreement for Pride to provide a detailed plan of how they’re dealing with all the AGCO issues, including capacity, service to minors and dealing with intoxicated people.

“We’re going beyond the legal requirements here in order to meet the concerns of the AGCO,” says Mathew. He says things changed when the inspection services were turned over the Ontario Provincial Police from the AGCO’s own inspectors. Before that happened, the inspectors used a more co-operative approach, Mathew says.

“They were interested in working with you, but the OPP sees it more as a law enforcement thing rather than a working relationship. The AGCO has been quite aggressive in the past couple of years,” says Mathew.

The paid staff in the north, south and central beer gardens all have their Smart Serve certification, a program that educates servers on how to recognize signs of intoxication and manage those who are already intoxicated. Mathew says that even the Team Toronto volunteers in the central beer garden will be viewing the video.

Mathew says there was no problem last year and that the liquor inspection caused Pride to lose money.

“Asking people to leave meant a loss in sales because the garden was running under capacity at a very peak time,” he says. “One of the problems is that [the south garden] is long and narrow, and most people congregate near the stage, making it look overcrowded.”

Mathew says there are paid security people at the gate with manual counters who keep track of people.