On Tuesday, March 17 our provincial government took the unprecedented step of prohibiting all Albertans from attending bars and nightclubs, where minors are prohibited by law. This order was included with a prohibition from attending public recreational facilities and private entertainment facilities, including gyms, swimming pools, arenas, science centres, museums, art galleries, community centres, children’s play centres, casinos, racing entertainment centres and bingo halls.
The goal of the orders was to limit the amount of time Albertans are spending in large crowds and crowded spaces.
As a bar owner, I was disappointed, although not surprised, to see this announcement.
I had seen closures in other jurisdictions and realized it was only a matter of time for us to follow suit. I was immediately concerned for the financial future of my staff, and of course for my own.
However, the COVID-19 crisis is causing widespread economic hardship and we will just have to ride it out as best as we can, just like everyone else.
Interestingly though, pubs, lounges and other licensed premises that have a minors-allowed license were allowed to stay open, although at a limited capacity.
The distinction between a “minors prohibited” and a “minors allowed” license is that the former is for a premises that has the sale and consumption of liquor as the primary source of business and the latter is for a premises that has the sale and consumption of food as the primary source of business.
If you want to allow minors in your premises you must have food as your primary source of business and you must have a commercial kitchen and a full menu available.
If you want to prohibit minors from your premises then there is no requirement for the commercial kitchen and the full menu, however, a minimum amount of food must still be made available.
It should be noted that only minors prohibited premises are allowed to have VLT machines.
My first reaction is that this isn’t fair.
How can some licensed premises be allowed to stay open and others not? Is a group of people in a minors allowed premises at any less risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 than a group of people in a minors prohibited premises?
Then I told myself I’m just thinking selfishly.
Maybe we need all the food primary premises to stay open so that everyone can get a sit down meal, even though we’re being told to stay home unless it is essential for us to be out.
In our community over the past two days, most restaurants, including those with liquor licenses, have chosen to close for sit down meals and are only offering take-out or delivery service.
This seems like the right thing to do given the goal of “limiting the amount of time Albertans are spending in crowds or crowded spaces.”
However, just today I became aware that some minors prohibited premises are going to be allowed to re-open very shortly.
There are numerous minors prohibited premises throughout the province that qualify for a minors allowed license because they have a full commercial kitchen and offer a full menu. Even though they would be eligible for the minors allowed license they have chosen to operate under the minors prohibited license.
Presumably, they’ve chosen this because their operations aren’t appropriate for minors and/or they wanted the option of having VLT machines.
Regardless of their previous style of operation, these premises are now being allowed to change their liquor licenses to minors allowed, thus allowing them to re-open.
I’m having a hard time understanding the province’s motivation here.
I could argue that closing only premises with minors prohibited licenses was unfair in the first place and now allowing some of those premises to change their license in order to reopen is even more unfair.
But, again, that would be selfish of me.
My greater concern is how the province can tell us how important it is to self-isolate and practice social distancing but then allow premises that have been operating as bars and nightclubs to simply say that they don’t operate that way anymore and allow them to reopen.