Saturday, June 16, 2012

No Consular Privilege for GCBF's 20th Anniversary

The Great Canadian Beer Festival is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year and to mark the occasion the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch have decided that the festival is not eligible for the Consular Privilege Program.

For two decades festival organizers have been using Consular Privilege, which allows alcohol to be imported tax and duty free into Canada by foreign consulates for registered charitable events, but this year they have been told by LCLB General Manager Karen Ayers that beer will have to be sourced through regular channels, namely the Liquor Distribution Branch, meaning the festival will have access to beers listed with the LDB or they can try to access unlisted beers through "special orders" which are never guaranteed to be brought in by the LDB.

"The federal government requires that all proceeds go to a registered charity, and the province requires that you have to be a registered charity to apply," stated a LCLB spokesperson, contacted via email

"The Great Canadian Beer Festival is not a registered charity. The Province has concerns the festival does not meet the criteria for a consular liquor event because it is not a registered charity. This concern has been communicated to festival organizers."

So by that rational, as I see it, the GCBF does qualify for Consular Privilege under federal rules, as they do donate proceeds to two registered charities, but do not qualify according to provincial requirements because the applicant has to actually be a registered charity.

Hieter states another reason cited by the LCLB for not granting Consular Privilege is that the alcohol consumed at the GCBF is not done so on consular property. This issue was not specified by the LCLB in their communications with me as being part of the reason for their decision.

The LCLB also pointed out that the GCBF had not applied for Consular Privilege this year, but that seems to be a moot point due to the stance being taken by provincial liquor regulators.

This move by the LCLB cannot be too much of a surprise as last year a warning shot was launched by the LCLB last year when they unexpectedly pulled Consular Privilege less than 24 hours before the 2011 GCBF was set to begin, then reversed the decision just a few hours prior to the gates opening (for full story go here). It was a somewhat bizarre move, considering the timing, but definitely a hint of things to come. If the LCLB had stuck to their guns with their original decision to pull Consular Privilege, the GCBF would not have been allowed to let any of the US beers to be poured and would have had no time to work out an alternative, leaving a massive hole in the festival's line-up.

This year Hieter had reached out to the office of Liberal Cabinet Minister Rich Coleman and the LCLB to try to arrange meetings to ease the tensions and clear up any misunderstandings. They were granted a meeting with Lori Wanamaker, Deputy Minister to Rich Coleman and Karen Ayers. According to Hieter, he felt that meeting was somewhat positive.

When GCBF organizers were granted a second  meeting with Ayers and a few others from the LCLB, Hieter was excited that him and GCBF organizers may finally be getting somewhere with opening a dialogue with the LCLB GM about Consular Privilege and a number of other issues, but those hopes were soon dashed when Hieter and his team realized the meeting was a one-way communication with the LCLB delivering bad news on all fronts.

Hopefully the impact of no Consular Privilege will be negligible as there has been sufficient warning given for Hieter and his team to source other beers. It will mean that festival goers will not be able to sample those US beers that do not make it north of the border except for special events like the GCBF, but there still will be an American presence..

"We will be looking more to the east instead of south," said festival organizer Gerry Hieter, during a recent phone interview, meaning that there may be a decidedly more Canadian flavour to the beers poured at this year's event, to be held in Victoria's Royal Athletic Park Sept 7-8. Hieter also believes that the line-up of beers being poured will remain top-shelf. "More and more (beers fro the US & Canada), are getting listed in BC all the time."

For their part, the LCLB report they will work with the GCBF organizers to get the beers they require to host a top-class event.

"The Province recently met with Greater Canadian Beer Festival officials and offered to work with them to bring in casked and/or kegged beer from outside the province (US or other provinces) through the Liquor Distribution Branch," stated the LCLB spokesperson via email.

It seems once again that both sides see things from completely different angles and Consular Privilege is only one of many issues that concern Hieter but I will address some of the others in future posts.

Lets hope there are no other surprises in store for the GCBF from LCLB officials and inspectors so that we can celebrate Canada's longest-running beer festival's 20th birthday in style.

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