Event organizers should consider new booze laws cautiously

Ontario has now passed legislation that allows adults attending events where alcohol is served to carry their beverages around with them as they enjoy whatever community activity is the day’s primary focus.

There are some caveats: the event must be taking place within a clearly defined area and those carrying their beer/wine must remain inside the event venue’s established boundaries.

There are several other aspects to this legislation that refer specifically to private businesses. Resorts, for example, will now be able to offer “all inclusive” packages that include wine and other alcoholic drinks and it will be much easier for anyone organizing a special event, such as a show opening at an art gallery, to serve alcohol as part of the festivities.

But in an area like Manitoulin Island, where family-friendly festivals abound, there must be careful scrutiny and a great deal of community consultation before individual events change so as to allow roving imbibers.

Wisely, the Ontario government fashioned this legislation in such a way that there must be municipal agreement if the new legislation is to be applied in the case of a particular event, together with the agreement of the event’s organizer.

So, for example, if the Central Manitoulin Lions Club decides it wants to maintain its status quo enclosed beer garden near the Mindemoya ballfield during Homecoming Weekend, rather than selling beer to be transported into the bleachers, it can do so.

Similarly, Haweater Weekend in Little Current, the annual Little Current Lions Club event, can choose to require those enjoying a brew to continue to do so only within the confines of the new pavilion the club is building this summer at Low Island adjacent to the ballfield.

While this new enabling legislation will be useful to some big city events and to resort businesses who wish to expand their offering to a Caribbean-style experience, it is not difficult to question how useful it will be to the type of summer event that defines virtually every Manitoulin community.

At the risk of sounding old fashioned, it is difficult to resist discouraging the wholesale application of this new law to Manitoulin events.

There will no doubt be some events for which a relaxing of the laws governing how alcohol is publicly handled and consumed that will benefit from a change.

It is hard, though, to imagine that this would be generally be the case on Manitoulin, given the nature, and the fairly open venues, of virtually every community event.

Every First Nation pow wow stipulates clearly in its advertising that the event is off-limits to drugs and alcohol. This is culturally important and significant and certainly means that the family orientation of these events is maintained.

Some of our community fundraising events, as previously noted, sell beer as part of their fundraising endeavours, but require those purchasing the product to remain in a particular area and these rules are always scrupulously overseen by the organizers, again ensuring family-friendly activities.

So far, this has seemed to work well and it is difficult to imagine any Island event organizer requesting that such legislation come into force at all.

In an earlier news story about the (then proposed) legislation, service club spokespeople were wary of the impact it could have on their events and also about their abilities to control the source of alcoholic beverages consumed in a public place where their activity was going on.

Caution must be urged, on all sides, at both municipal and organizational levels.

Just because something is suddenly available doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea.