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Anti-binge laws help slow drunken violence

Police say alcohol-fuelled violence is on the decline in bars and on city streets after the province introduced new liquor rules to discourage binge drinking.

Provincial legislation launched last August prohibits happy hour specials after 8p.m., requires bars and pubs to charge a minimum drink price and forbids patrons from having more than two drinks in their possession after 1 a. m.

Since that time, officers say they’ve responded to fewer rowdy altercations — a fact they attribute not just to pricier booze but an increased police presence on the streets and a movement among bar and nightclub owners to deter criminal activity and improve public safety within their establishments.

But Alberta’s happy hour crackdown has almost certainly helped corral liquor-induced disorderliness and cut back on late-night assaults, said Calgary Police Service spokesman Kevin Brookwell.

“We’re seeing a significant decrease in excessive drinking, which always translated into problems at closing time or even outside the bars,” he noted.

Bar and nightclub owners have mixed feelings about the legislation.

For some, it’s meant business as usual.

“Deep discounts promote over-consumption and attract the wrong crowd,” said Fred Konopaki, owner of the Palomino Smokehouse on 7th Ave. S. W.

“I never did it in the first place.”

But other bar and pub owners argue the new liquor rules –rather than promoting responsible drinking–may in fact be making the problem worse, as some people are binging on alcohol at home prior to hitting their favourite late night watering hole.

Staff at Melrose Cafe&Bar regularly find empty bottles of liquor in the parking lot or even in bathroom stalls, suggesting patrons are power drinking to avoid paying higher bar tabs while watching a hockey game or hanging out with friends.

“They just pound it back,” said owner Wayne Leong, who earlier this year co-founded the Calgary Bar Watch Association for Patron Safety, a group of 25 city bars that installed special surveillance cameras to improve safety.

Bar staff are trained to keep an eye on how much booze customers are given, a job that’s now more difficult because it can be tricky to assess exactly how much liquor people have chugged before walking in, he noted.

“People are pre-drinking and showing up at the bar already intoxicated. They are trying to get as much booze in their bodies as they can before they leave the house to save money,” said Chris Dobson, owner of the Roadhouse Nightclub.

Dobson doesn’t disagree with the new rules–he believes there should be a reasonable cap on liquor prices–but feels that cutting off drink specials before 8 o’clock, especially during a recession, puts bar owners in an increasingly tough position.

“It hurts business, no question about it,” he said.

The rules are fair in that they apply equally to all businesses and no one can get away with peddling ridiculously cheap booze to lure the thrifty 18-to-25-year-old demographic, believes bar proprietor P. J. L’Heureux.

But he’s bothered by the fact the rules seem to penalize young adults, who often work evenings and can’t make it to a bar before the 8 p. m. cut-off. For them, the days of enjoying a bottle of beer on a budget are over, he said.

“The new rules cater to the 9-to-5 worker, who tend to be salaried employees and can afford to spend a little bit more on drinks than the person who works at a mall or clothing store until 9 or 10 at night,” said L’Heureux, whose stable of bars includes the Tequila Nightclub, the Habitat Lounge and Jamesons Irish Pub.

“It really alienates the young workforce.”

A spokeswoman for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission said it’s too early to tell what effect minimum drink prices have had on liquor-related violence, or whether it has encouraged people to drink responsibly.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving applauded the legislation when it was introduced last year, arguing that people are much less likely to consume immoderate amounts of alcohol when prices are higher.

But Denise Dubyk, a spokeswoman for the Alberta chapter of MADD Canada, said it’s worrisome to think some people may be overindulging in liquor at home as a means to avoid a pricier bar tab, then getting behind the wheel to hit a nightspot.

The most powerful deterrent is still stiff penalties for offenders, she said

The new liquor rules emerged in the wake of recommendations submitted to the government over the past few years by provincial round tables and a separate task force on bar violence –groups comprised of bar and restaurant owners, police and others.

The committees were organized in response to systemic violence in and around bars and nightclubs in Alberta in recent years, along with a dramatic increase in the use of knives and guns.

source: Calgary Herald

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