Vancouver's chief medical health officer is calling for legislation to impose unprecedented restrictions on the right to carry alcohol on days of large public gatherings like the hockey playoff celebrations that erupted into a riot last June.
Terming excessive consumption of alcohol a public health issue, Patricia Daly said Wednesday that consideration should be given to an outright ban on passengers carrying alcohol, whether opened or unopened, during these events.
To enforce the measure, police should be granted special powers to conduct random searches for liquor on transit and other public areas, Dr. Daly added.
These strictures would only be implemented when there has been a proper risk assessment to determine that they are appropriate, and it would be up to the province – not police – to make the decision, she said.
"You wouldn't want this to happen frequently or easily," she said, "but it's a recognition that public drinking played a significant role in the Stanley Cup riot. It was a big factor."
David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association denounced the proposal to enhance police powers over alcohol searches.
"No one is suggesting closing the bars, but they want the right to look into my backpack," Mr. Eby said. "It's easy to urge rolling back people's rights, but there are no easy answers. All you do is spend large amounts of money, violate people's rights, and you won't stop the flow of alcohol anyway."
All three recent reviews of the riot – by the city, the Vancouver Police Department and provincial appointees Douglas Keefe and John Furlong – determined that the early closing of liquor stores in downtown Vancouver for the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final did little to curb the flow and consumption of alcohol.
Many of the estimated 155,000 people who crowded downtown streets bought their booze in outlying areas close to public transit. They either drank it beforehand or took it with them, or both.
Liquor sales at government outlets throughout Metro Vancouver increased 68 per cent for Game 7, compared with the same day a year ago.
At a store in North Vancouver close to the SeaBus, sales soared 166 per cent, while at a liquor store in Burnaby near the Brentwood SkyTrain station, purchases were up 121 per cent.
Dr. Daly said 70 per cent of those treated at Vancouver hospitals on the night of the riot were from outside city limits, and a majority were intoxicated.
Drinking in downtown bars was not a major problem, she explained, since their customers tended to be older and ordered a lot of food, and a large number stayed from early in the day until the riot had quieted down.
Meanwhile, young people, mostly men, were pouring into the city centre, either already drunk or carrying alcohol with them, Dr. Daly said.
"We knew from hospital emergency departments on previous game days that there were problems from alcohol. The police knew this as well, but they had limited powers to address it," she said, referring to current restrictions on police searches in situations where they have "reasonable and probable grounds" of unlawful possession of liquor.
Dr. Daly recommended legislation giving police the right to conduct random searches in special circumstances, as well as providing the province with the power to ban alcohol on public transit.
Solicitor-General Shirley Bond, however, was cautious about Dr. Daly's recommendations, which were also made by the Keefe-Furlong review.
In an e-mailed response, Ms. Bond said police already have a "powerful tool" to control liquor consumption, and any further extension of their powers would have to be "carefully considered."
"We need to balance the need to protect the public, while respecting the rights of individuals," she said. As to banning alcohol on public transit, Ms. Bond said transit operators already have that right "when they see fit."
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Editor's note: An earlier online version and the original newspaper version of this story misspelled Patricia Daly's last name. This online version has been corrected.