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North Van liquor store's licence suspended after underage sting

Since 2010, the province has used minors as undercover agents in inspections.
The Pemberton Station Pub in North Vancouver, Dec. 2022. | Google Earth

A North Vancouver pub’s off-sales liquor store will have its licence temporarily suspended after getting caught selling booze to a minor in a sting by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.

According to a ruling published last week, Pemberton Station Pub’s cold beer and wine store will have to close for seven days starting on June 9.

In 2010, the province began a program to send minors into liquor establishments as agents of provincial regulator. Under the program, the minor agents receive training on how to make a purchase. They are told to dress as the would normally and receive $20 to buy something in a store.

In November 2022, the branch sent a message to all liquor licence holders in the province letting them know that random inspections would be resuming.

In the sting, which took place in January, a liquor inspector went into the store and texted the minor agent outside. The minor came in and bought alcohol without being asked for ID, according to the ruling, and then left.

“Enforcement action was recommended because of the adverse effects of liquor on young adults,” the ruling states.

Pemberton Station didn’t dispute that their staff had sold alcohol to a minor, but instead argued they had done their due diligence.

The employee testified the minor appeared to be about 25 years of age, similar to the age of servers in the pub. The teen also appeared confident, made eye contact and didn’t exhibit any behaviours liquor store employees are trained to watch for in underage shoppers.

The employee told the branch she was distracted by the presence of the undercover inspector who was standing around inside the store and texting a friend, which she found odd.

The branch did not accept that argument, however.

“Distractions are one of the factors that may play a part when determining if it is necessary to request ID from a customer. It does not normally provide a lawful excuse for failing to ask for ID,” the ruling notes.

The employee testified that she was shocked and devastated to learn that she had sold liquor to a minor, the ruling notes.

At the time, the store’s employee handbook directs staff to check the ID of anyone appearing to be 25 or under. It has since been changed to 30.

The store’s manager is known to be hands-on and nags his staff to be vigilant, the ruling notes, and liquor store employees rigorously document each incident in which they refuse service to someone for failing to provide ID or for being intoxicated.

But, because there was no ongoing training for the liquor store staff, the branch determined they were not entitled to a defence of due diligence.

It was the only time the Pemberton Station business had been subject to any enforcement within the last 12 months, the ruling notes, and management was given the choice between a fine of $7,000 or a seven-day license suspension.

The inspector and the minor agent carried out 12 checks of liquor establishments that day, according to the ruling, three of which found clerks failing to ask for ID.