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Will Church St be overpoliced again?

Bars say liquor inspectors pick on them

Church St bar owners, still upset about the way they were treated during liquor inspections last Pride, are trying to change things this year.

?Most people don?t fight back because they don?t want any trouble,? says Dennis O?Connor, chair of the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (BIA). ?The BIA doesn?t own a licence, so we can work as a group and that?s where our strength lies.?

The BIA organized a meeting in early June with police from 51 division, which is responsible for the gay village, and representatives from the Alcohol And Gaming Commission Of Ontario (AGCO) to talk about what went wrong last year.

?It was an opportunity for everyone to get together and ask specifics about what they would be patrolling for. This way they could tell us what leeway they?ll give,? says Steve Clegg, assistant manager at Woody?s. ?The message that I got from them is that overcrowding was their main concern and there would be very little room for movement. They?re not willing to bend on much.?

O?Connor says there are too many inspectors making multiple inspections in the course of a few hours. ?There were bars and restaurants that had as many as 20 inspections in a day, which is outrageous,? he says.

Some bar staff have complained that inspectors were rude and needlessly aggressive.

?Last year we had a number of problems with their inspectors that were less than respectful,? says O?Connor. ?It?s not necessary to push and shove people. You can do the job and look like you might be having fun.?

Both the police and AGCO inspectors make rounds during Pride. O?Connor says the police are more sensitive than AGCO inspectors. Clegg says it could be a matter of individual attitude.

?It seems that there are going to be different inspectors on the street this year,? says Clegg.

During the meeting the police said they would set up a command post at Church and Maitland that will help coordinate police activities and give them a public face.

?The command centre is a mobile home with our colours on it, a space in which we can be visible and people can see that we?re there,? says Jackie O?Keefe, the police liaison officer for the queer community. ?It?s to localize everything so that if there?s trouble or concerns people can access police more quickly.? (The Toronto Police service is also going to be recruiting officers at a Pride booth this year.)

O?Connor says that the problem is actually deeper than the attitudes and strategies of the police or the liquor inspectors.

?The laws are so antiquated that it?s almost impossible to serve an alcoholic beverage. But I also contend that a lot of police understand that some regulations are silly. If everyone is having a good time, does it matter that someone took a sip of a beer bottle on the way up the stairs?

?They have all kinds of bylaws and regulations they can hit you with. If they want to be nasty they can always find something.?

There will be a followup meeting after Pride for bars owners to compare notes. ?If they?ve done better, we?ll send a letter saying, ?thank you so much.? If they haven?t then we?ll decide what action we?ll take at that point,? says O?Connor.