Rebuffed by Backwards Laws

References to the complex relationship that Prince Edward Island has with alcohol often highlight that prohibition came first and left last here, with a ban on the retail sale of alcohol enacted in 1900 and not lifted until 1948. Usually that’s where the story ends.

The reality is that the liquor laws of PEI are still firmly rooted in the temperance movement of days gone by: liquor sales are a tightly regulated government monopoly, regulations about where and when alcohol can be served are bizarre, and alcohol continues to be treated, at least officially, as a demon against which strong defenses are required. The Liquor Control Act runs 41 pages, its accompanying regulations another 51 pages; inside you’ll find prose such as:

The Commission being of the opinion that all proprietary or patent medicines, extracts, essences, lotions, tinctures and preparations which contain alcohol, whether of a solid, semi-solid or liquid nature, can be used as a beverage or as the ingredient of a beverage, hereby prohibits the sale thereof by retail within the province, except by persons duly licensed by the Commission to keep and sell the same by retail.


A licensee may obtain special authorization from the Commission to permit dancing in the licensed dining room area for private functions closed to the general public.


An application for a permit for a clergyman to purchase wine for sacramental purposes shall be in Form 3 and the permit shall be in Form 4 and there shall be no fee for such permit.

We’re 59 years after prohibition “ended” and yet, in so many ways, the attitudes that gave rise to it are still at the heart and soul of our liquor legislation.

In the day to day course of my life this is of absolutely no importance to me. But last night we came up against the full force of these laws, and significant tantrums ensued.

Summerside, you see, is hosting a Tall Ships Festival this week, and part of the entertainment scheduled was a Lennie Gallant concert last night at the Silver Fox Curling Club. My parents are in town this week, and we thought it might make a nice night out to take them up for dinner and the show. Catherine phoned earlier in the week and reserved 5 tickets — “two seniors, two adults and a child” she told them. No problem.

When we showed up at the Silver Fox last night at quarter to eight, however, the man at the door took one look at Oliver and shook his head: the concert, it seems, was a “licensed event.” Meaning no kids. We could go in without Oliver, or, maybe, get our tickets refunded and all go home empty-Gallanted.

Now keep in mind that we’d just walked across the street from the Loyalist Country Inn where Oliver sat amongst his family has beer and wine were consumed inside a bar festooned with manifestations of alcohol. But that was okay because, well, it was in a location “such that food may readily be procured for consumption therein.”

Move across the street, however, and add music (no doubt a enabler of the demonizing influences of alcohol in ways I just can’t understand) and all bets are off.

Oliver, as you might imagine, understood none of the subtlety of all this, and was convinced that the evil man at the door simply didn’t like him. It took a lot of explaining about “backwards laws” and the composition of several distractatory songs to disabuse him of this. And I’m still pretty sure he’ll bear a lifelong feeling that the people of Summerside have a hate-on for him.

I don’t consider myself one of those bitter new residents of PEI who are always going on about the lack of decent arugula and the paucity of good ballet. I’m a pretty satisfied guy when it comes to the Island’s eccentricities and conservative tendencies.

But although I’m not even a particularly engaged consumer of the demon alcohol myself, this would appear to be one area of Island life that could use an injection of some modernity.


Ken Williams's picture
Ken Williams on July 27, 2007 - 13:56 Permalink

When they bring the Liquor Control Act into this century then they can finally legalize cannabis as well. One thing at a time.

Ann's picture
Ann on July 27, 2007 - 14:16 Permalink

If Oliver was a performer, he could get a special permit to be in a licensed venue — a permit issued that allows minors to be in such dens of inequity if they are there to perform.
So, knowing Oliver’s talent for drums, I suggest you cozy up to which ever performer you want to see, ask them to let O. sit in for a tune, then get him a permit. Then he will be able to sit at the table and enjoy his hot chocolate with you for the rest of the show.

Alan's picture
Alan on July 27, 2007 - 15:38 Permalink

If it is any comfort, that is one of the things in the liquor law that irritates which is not particularly limited to PEI as far as North America goes, though Ann’s notation of the exception may well be. It is the concept of “the beer tent” for the evil people and the rest of the place for the pure. In this case, Lennie appears to be illicit himself hence his placement in the beer tent. Here is my hint. Go to Rendezvous Rustico. See him and stick around for the after party. All inclusive with a genial back turned to these sorts of barriers.

Jennifer's picture
Jennifer on July 27, 2007 - 20:17 Permalink

As I was once one of those under-aged minors musicians- the “special license” permit presents one problem- during set breaks I legally was never actually _allowed_ in the venue to perform- had to sit in a separate room all by my lonesome while the party continued on next door.

The whole idea of liquor licensing on PEI is a weird and wacky one. I’ve never understood why the presence of food suddenly made the environment a “family-friendly one?”

I would be beyond ticked at the Festival for selling tickets to a youth, knowing they would not be allowed in!

Ultimately, it should be the parent’s decision to what their children are exposed to. My friends/family sneaked me into licensed-venues because I wanted to learn from all the great entertainers- and I’m all the happier for it!

Is a 7-year old honestly going to sneak off to a random corner to down a whiskey shot? Not likely…

The responsibility ultimately lies with the venue/event- they should publicize their specifications before-hand, and certainly not bill the event as a family one if they are only permitting 19+ years!

That’s my rant from the event manager perspective.. ;)

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on July 27, 2007 - 21:53 Permalink

… which speaks to the larger inanity that the “protection” of minors from alcohol by making it administratively harder to get creates a culture that encourages binge drinking, secrecy, and, ultimately, an unhealthy relationship with drinking.

The smartest parents I know let their teenage kids host parties in their own basements, turned a blind eye to the cases of beer going down the stairs, and rested easy knowing that the lines of communication were open with their kids, and that the alcohol was being consumed in a safe environment.

Why is it that we adults lose the ability to see that when we make something hard to get, and cloak it with rumours of evil, we make it an object of unusual desire.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on July 28, 2007 - 13:17 Permalink

Point taken.

But I would argue that it’s precisely the the legislation that infantilizes drinkers that leads to the kind of reckless abandon that leads to people peeing in our rosebushes and trying to break down our front door.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I think if you treat people as if they are responsible and reasonable, we will act accordingly.

oliver's picture
oliver on July 29, 2007 - 00:46 Permalink

You do want to be awfully sure of that “safe environment” and not turn too blind an eye. A woman in the states was sent to jail for more than two years recently for the same conscientious intentions.…

Anyway, re: seven year-olds, I find it hard to believe that venue hosts or event organizers would actually get flak let alone a citation or fine for allowing them into an event under personal parental chaperoning. Even if it had ever been proper to do so under the law, enforcement practices evolve ahead of the laws often, so you’d want to know what’s the convention now about enforcement. Totally apart from that, I suppose the event gate keeper who turned away Oliver may have been earnest but clueless.

Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on July 29, 2007 - 05:37 Permalink

I went to see David Francey at Carrefour St. Jean in June while visiting the island and was reminded of the island liquor laws. Folk music and beer go together like say communion and wine for example. A similar sized event at a folk club anywhere else could conceivably have had minors manning the beer table.

I wish my 5 1/2 year old son would sit through an entire concert — impressive.

Sandy's picture
Sandy on July 30, 2007 - 12:32 Permalink

Back in March, the PEI Jazz and Blues Festival held a concert at the Guild, it was billed as an all ages event and lots of students and young children attended. They held another event a couple of months later at the Guild, which the J &B organizers thought was to be the same all ages event, but they chose a different seating style which changed the event from cabaret to concert style or something like that. Dale and I had made plans for Riley’s Grandmother to drop her off at the Guild to meet us (after attending a recital at UPEI). We were very disappointed to find out once she arrived that it was not an all ages event and she was not allowed into the venue. I don’t understand how the placement of tables or chairs can make a difference in whether or not monors are allowed into an event where alcohol is served.