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City Council sticking to liquor licensing policies

Fort St. John City Council sent a firm message to facilities users Monday when it declined DGS Astro Paving's request to allow alcoholic beverages in the dressing rooms of the Pomeroy Sport Centre. The company is hosting the 2013 Colas Cup Hockey Tournament next January, and had asked city council at their last meeting to allow them to drink in their dressing rooms after the games.

The company was applauded for bringing forward the request, as in the past operators of arenas have turned a blind eye to drinking in dressing rooms, but as City Manager Dianne Hunter pointed out, municipalities are no longer finding it an acceptable practice.

"It's been a huge issue, not just in Fort St. John," she says. "It is changing, so this has been a process that we've been working really hard with the user groups on. There is a lot of uptake now that drinking in the change room is just not acceptable."

Hunter cites difficulties in getting people out of the building by closing time, and possible damage to facilities as just some of the reasons against allowing drinking in dressing rooms. The event also takes place during the day, when there will be families using the facilities, and students in class at the Energetic Learning Campus. Two similar requests for allowing liquor in dressing rooms have been denied by council before, for similar reasons.

Council has recently updated its alcohol policy, which has a "Zero Tolerance" approach for alcoholic beverages in City facilities, and allows for Beer Gardens or Special Occasion Licences on a case-by-case basis. Hockey teams have agreed to place sanctions on or suspend teammates and coaches caught disobeying the no-liquor rules. Councillor Byron Stewart, who initially supported allowing the licence, says this may be an opportunity to create new policy.

"I do see this as an opportunity for a policy to be created, with very strict guidelines," he says. "If a policy is going to be drawn up at any point in time, I do think this is a good group to work with and a good opportunity to build something that would protect the city and also allow the opportunity in the future for a person to have a couple beers after playing a hockey game."

Although DGS Astro is a company respected by City Council, the worry was also that this would open, as Acting Mayor Dan Davies put it, Pandora's Box of liquor requests.

"A licence isn't going to make any difference in a person's behaviour after they've consumed alcohol," Hunter argues. "This is really going to be a challenge for the message we've given out to other user groups."

Even if council was to approve the licence, it would still be subject to approval by both RCMP and the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. Although their request was turned down, participants in next year's Colas Cup won't have to go far to enjoy a beverage after their workout, as their celebration will be held at the Curling Club next door.