Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Justice Minister Brushes Off Beer Consumer's Complaints About Being Cheated

British Columbia's Attorney General and Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton, recently told craft beer consumer
advocates, the Campaign for Real Ale  (CAMRA) of BC, that consumers are on their own, as far as she is concerned, if they feel they are being cheated or mislead about the serving size of their draft beer.

In a response to a letter sent by CAMRA BC to Anton (read here), imploring her to endorse CAMRA BC's Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign and to consider making a few more much-needed changes to the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch (LCLB) policies to help protect consumers and promote public health and safety, Anton wrote, via e-mail,
 "If a customer is not pleased with the service in an establishment, they have the choice of raising the issue with the licensee or taking their business to other bars or restaurants"
As a BC consumer, it does not make me feel very confident when the province's Justice Minister appears to be condoning or ignoring business practices that see consumers being defrauded and purposely mislead and misinformed about what they are purchasing.

In their letter, CAMRA BC also suggested having a policy requiring certified marked glassware, with "fill to here" (plimsol) lines indicating the volume, and having the alcohol content of beer (ABV) added to the legally-required serving size list. CAMRA BC believes that by making these two changes to BC liquor policy, along with the enforcement of the serving size list requirement, consumers and servers will better know exactly how much alcohol is being served and consumed which will help them better monitor over-serving and over-consumption, important in BC with the popularity of higher alcohol craft beers, strict Serving it Right rules for alcohol and tough drinking and driving laws.

Anton's response, which you can read in full here, was, at best, a brush off and seems to indicate that the Justice Minister and/or her staff:

  • did not read the letter
  • read the letter and did not understand what CAMRA BC was getting at 
  • read the letter and simply did not care that BC draft beer drinkers are being lied to, short-poured and defrauded when it comes to draft beer serving sizes in this province.
  • have no real interest in truly striking a balance between consumer wants/needs and public health and safety
Even though the focus of the letter was on getting enforcement concerning serving-size-price lists, Anton did nothing more than point out what CAMRA BC already knew, that this legal requirement for a list exists, and stated, "beyond that, government's focus is not on the array of serving sizes found within the province."

It seems to me that the Justice Minister is saying, "yes, we have that law, but no, we are not going to enforce it. We trust you, licensees of BC." 

To borrow an analogy from CAMRA Vancouver president, Adam Chatburn, isn't that like posting a speed limit then nailing a sign below the posted speed saying, "but don't worry, we aren't enforcing this. We trust you to comply with the speed limit"? 
Justice Minister Anton says
no to gov't required plimsol
lines for draft beer glasses

In addition, Anton advised CAMRA BC the BC Liberals would not consider requiring the use of certified, marked glassware, stating, 
"Government's resources and focus lay heavily on public safety issues, such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, illegal activities, and so forth.  It would be a burden for provincial liquor inspectors and police to measure glassware in addition to their other duties."
Would liquor inspectors and police not have more time on their hands to deal with public safety issues, like such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, etc, because they would NOT be burdened with measuring volumes in glassware because those that certified the glassware and placed the plimsol (fill-to-here) lines had already done that!

With the minimum price of a glass of beer tied directly to volume, $0.25/oz or 28ml due to new BC minimum drink price legislation, would the government not have a vested interest in knowing if licensees are reporting proper serving sizes so that the government gets an accurate amount of alcohol tax?

I don't understand a government that passes a policy tying drink prices to volumes served when they have no interest in the volume of serving sizes in the first place.

I know many licensees who think marked glassware is a great idea and the perfect way to level the playing field between unscrupulous licensees and those who want to serve it right and be honest.

Although there is a cost attached to replacing glassware, if brought into effect over a period of time so glasses could be replaced through normal wear & tear & attrition, the cost would be less burdensome to licensees. And although there is a shortage of suppliers at the moment providing glassware with plimsol lines, I am sure some clever business  person would quickly fill the void if they new that using such glasses was going to be a legal requirement for all licensed establishments.

For those not familiar with CAMRA BC's FUSS Campaign, the consumer advocates have been pushing the LCLB, which Anton is currently responsible for, to enforce their policy that all liquor licensees, in the Justice Minister's own words, "must have a list available showing drinks, drink sizes and prices," in order to give consumers the information necessary to make informed decisions and to help eliminate the misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes.

The campaign was started in 2011 by the CAMRA BC Vancouver branch who were being inundated with complaints from consumers (some members, some not) that there was wide-spread misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes - being told they were ordering a certain volume of beer and being served much less - and that the serving size list requirement was basically being ignored so consumers had no idea what volume of beer they were ordering before it actually arrived at the table.

The government talks about striking a balance between consumers needs and public health and safety yet they continue to ignore and brush aside complaints about dubious practices by some licensees which impact public health and safety negatively and violate consumers' rights. This call to enforce the existing law and make these changes would benefit everyone...except the dishonest licensees whose practices are now forcing industry-wide fraud as everyone must complete in the marketplace and being honest puts a licensee at risk of looking bad and losing customers.

BC beer consumers should be outraged that the BC Liberal Government, via their Justice Minister-Attorney, are completely ignoring this issue. Not all consumers care, but there are a great many who do. Not all licensees are unscrupulous, but those who aren't are feeling pressure to use questionable methods of making their draft beer pricing more attractive to consumers.

For the life of me, I do not understand why the LCLB and the Provincial Government do not take this problem seriously.

Maybe if if 1/2-litre carafes of wine started arriving with 350ml in them or 1.5 oz servings of scotch were arriving in one-ounce measures we might see some action...


  1. If consumer fraud is tolerated by the government, how long before it expands into other areas? Is our trust in the accuracy of weights and measures of consumables naive, misplaced? Are we being ripped off more than we realize?

    Uneven enforcement of laws, or refusal to enforce the law, undermines the integrity of the rule of law.

  2. I would like to see how long it would take for govt to respond to a bar serving up 20 oz glasses, calling them 16's and charging $4.00. Hypocrytes.