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Vancouver pub's liquor licence suspended after customers caught playing pool

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A Vancouver restaurant has had its liquor licence suspended for three days after an inspector caught patrons playing pool, according to a decision from the regulator.

The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch handed down the penalty Monday, describing the circumstances that led to the Notice of Enforcement Action being issued in October of last year when the business ran afoul of the terms of its licence for a second time.

Johnnie Fox’s Irish Pub, on Main Street, has a food primary licence, the decision explained. Establishments with these licences are not allowed to provide "patron participation entertainment" – activities like darts or pool that require customers to leave their tables – unless their licence has a specific "endorsement," the regulator said.

There was no dispute that three patrons were caught playing pool "for about five minutes, with the balls on the table and using cue sticks" and that this activity was not allowed. But a representative for the pub did argue at a hearing that the business should not be penalized.

"The licensee did not permit the patrons’ use of the pool table and the licensee is raising a defence of due diligence," the decision said.

The defence, if proven on a balance of probabilities, leads to a finding that no contravention has occurred and so no sanctions are imposed.

"The licensee must not only establish procedures to identify and deal with problems, they must ensure that those procedures are consistently acted upon and problems are dealt with," the decision explained, noting it is not enough to simply show that the contravention was not intentional.

In support of the defence, the regulator was told that the restaurant had taken steps to prevent pool playing after it was fined $1,000 for allowing it in August of 2022.

These included covering the tables and informing staff that pool playing was no longer allowed. A representative for the pub also told the regulator that a sign saying "Do Not Touch" had been installed – although the decision notes that "the licensee did not disclose any photos of the sign."

At the hearing, the regulator was also told that a vital piece of equipment had been removed to further deter would-be pool players.

"I heard evidence from the supervisor that there were no cue sticks available and that patrons must have brought in their own cue sticks in order to play," Nerys Poole wrote in the branch's decision. "There was no evidence about how staff failed to notice this when customers were being seated in the restaurant."

Regardless of if the restaurant took all of the steps it said it had, the evidence presented at the hearing showed that pool playing persisted.

"Patrons’ use of the pool tables occurred every few weeks or once a month. Staff were constantly having to inform patrons that the licence did not permit use of the pool tables," the decision said.

The regulator rejected the defence of due diligence, saying there were additional steps the business could have taken – such as removing the balls or blocking the mechanism that allowed a release of the balls when coins were inserted.

"The licensee did not exercise all reasonable care in establishing a proper system to prevent the use of the pool tables nor did the licensee take reasonable steps to ensure the effective operation of the system to prevent the contravention," the decision said.

In conclusion, the regulator noted that there was one thing the business could have done but did not do until after the incident in October of 2023.

"The licensee argues that it has demonstrated its compliance with the liquor regulations by removing the pool tables after the date of the contravention," the decision said.

"This submission ignores the fact that the licensee had the opportunity to do this in the 14 months prior to the second contravention."

The restaurant also argued that a three-day suspension was unnecessarily harsh in the circumstances, but that argument was also rejected. The suspension is set to be in effect on July 5, 6 and 7.

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