The Island

Jack Knox is a columnist with the Victoria Times Columnist.

Bill Campbell was strolling along the Esquimalt Lagoon when he spotted the beer truck.

Part of Colwood’s annual Eats and Beats at the Beach festival, it emerged out of the sand like an oasis in the desert.

What a great idea, Campbell thought. Knocking back a cold one while the grandkids frolicked on the shore sounded like a perfectly splendid way to enjoy the summer sunshine.

Except when he made it to the beer area, the guy guarding the gate said: “Can you show me ID?”

“What do I need ID for?” the 77-year-old Campbell replied. “Look at me.”

Nope. The rules said no identification, no beer.

Campbell was flummoxed. “I was absolutely speechless.”

It does seem odd. You can’t do a lap of supposedly alcohol-free Thetis Lake park this summer without tripping over some boozed-up feral youth passed out face down on the trail, yet an obviously-of-age guy can’t buy a beer because he left his driver’s licence in the trunk?

It comes down to this: There are rules, and then there are rules that are enforced.

The City of Colwood says the beach festival’s liquor licence required a certain number of security staff, whose job includes checking identification upon entry.

“Most security companies have a policy of ID’ing everyone so that there is no discrimination.”

If that leaves you scratching your head with the hand you had hoped would be holding a can of Lucky, well …

By contrast, the law says you’re not supposed to drink at all at Thetis, not at 17 and not at 77, but you would need to call out the army to screen all the entrances to the park to enforce compliance — not that Campbell is a fan of that sort of approach.

It ticked him off to pick up the Times Colonist and read about View Royal Mayor David Screech calling for a zero-tolerance-for-alcohol approach at the park.

Zero tolerance is a dream that doesn’t work, Campbell argues, not for booze, not for tobacco, not for drugs. It would be better, he says, to sell beer and wine in strategic locations within Thetis Lake park and use the revenue to offset the cost of sticking a cop car with a breathalyzer on Six Mile Road.

He won’t get wholehearted support for that idea. Drinking in public is still largely frowned upon in Canada. Quebec lets adults have a beer at a picnic table (though not on a patch of grass) in a park while eating a meal (though not a snack), and Alberta permits drinking at beaches where signs say it’s allowed, but that’s about it.

B.C.’s liquor laws are actually much more relaxed than they used to be. During their last couple of years in power, Christy Clark’s Liberals loosened regulations that hadn’t changed all that much since the days when the only bars were in hotels and even they were required to maintain a separate entrance for Ladies and Escorts.

They eased the rule that confined drinkers to beer gardens at festivals and the like. Organizations can now apply for a permit that lets people carry beer and wine throughout the entire site.

Bars are allowed to offer a happy hour with discounted drinks now. Farm markets can offer tastings of beer, wine and spirits. Businesses such as bookstores and barbershops can apply for licences. Restaurants can serve drinks without food (though I still grow nostalgic for the café that would charge 25 cents for half a piece of bread with a toothpick through it, often serving up the same half slice to a succession of customers).

The government even cracked open the door to selling alcohol in grocery stores, though the conditions are so tight that few actually do, as is common in other countries (last week, a visiting Scottish friend who thought she was buying a box of wine at a supermarket purchased a wine-making kit in error).

But the government drew the line at allowing booze in public places. There just wasn’t enough public support for drinking in family-friendly settings. Too far, people said.

That still doesn’t make it easy to enforce the law, though — unlike the rule that denies a beer to a 77-year-old man in a beer garden.