When UBC stopped liquor service at Koerner’s Pub in late March, it seemed to come out of the blue. It would have taken quite a bit of foresight to predict a possible shutdown of Koerner’s might be on the horizon…

The Pub has had two under-age drinking incidents in the 2008-2009 period and a contravention notice was served by the RCMP. This has had wider repercussions for other liquor license holders at UBC, and if a further contravention were to occur the reputation of the GSS and its relations with other key stakeholders on Campus would suffer a significant set-back.

– GSS External Review by MMK Consulting, dated Feb 2, 2010

Regardless of whatever warnings may have occurred, the taps at Koerner’s have been turned off for well over a month. Despite their protestations to the contrary, it’s clear that getting Koerner’s re-opened is not the GSS’s top priority. They seem apathetic about it all and are so accepting of their fate that an official 4-day licence suspension handed down by the province at the end of April barely registered. This is strange, since a suspension by the province has far more legitimacy than what UBC has been doing but ultimately had no effect. This is what the province had to say about the suspension they imposed:

* The Province’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) ordered the licence suspended for four days. The suspension runs from the close of business April 24 until the opening of business April 28th.

* The suspension is for the infraction that occurred on March 12, 2010: “permitting an intoxicated person to remain” – sec 43(2)(b) of Liquor Control and Licensing Act.

* The penalty is a result of information provided to LCLB from the RCMP, following a routine licensed premises check.

* The matter did not go to an enforcement hearing, as the licensee signed a waiver, agreeing to the penalty. Because of that, there was no hearing, and consequently no enforcement decision to release.

First and foremost, the massive difference in the penalties imposed by the LCLB and by UBC is still astounding. The province’s shut down is for four days then life goes on. UBC’s shutdown has been over 40 days with no end in sight. The War on Fun is not a baseless hypothesis: prohibitions and punishments surrounding liquor are more severe at UBC than elsewhere.

Something that has been a bit of a mess to unravel has been the flow of information. The source documents behind all of this are the RCMP’s police reports about the incidents at Koerner’s. The LCLB probably also has these reports, but won’t confirm citing only that they have “written information” from the RCMP – that could mean anything. The LCLB then produced a report which it then passed on to UBC as the licensee, with some additional background information. UBC then passed on the LCLB’s report to the GSS. By the time the GSS received any information it had been filtered two or three times. In an attempt to close to information loop, the GSS has filed FOI requests with the RCMP to get copies of the incident reports. Why won’t the RCMP simply provide the reports to the GSS? It’s not clear, but the answer to that is probably as simple as: because they’re the RCMP.

There would have been an easy way to bring more info out into the open: have an enforcement hearing. Instead, UBC, without consulting the GSS, signed a waiver declining that hearing and accepting the penalty. The reason given for why UBC signed the waiver was because they felt the penalty being imposed was far less onerous than the one they imposed themselves, so why fight it? That logic has a certain amount of merit but for the GSS a hearing would have been extremely beneficial because as they would have been able to actually get the details of what they have been accused of. Given that their pub has been dry for over a month, it only seems fair that the GSS should know all the details why.

Ultimately, the GSS was given a chance to tell their version of events surrounding the two incidents but UBC was unconvinced and unsatisfied with the GSS’s account of the incidents in question; they considered the RCMP’s version of events to be much clearer. One interesting point is that while the GSS bartender did admit to serving the patrons involved in the incidents, the RCMP interpreted that as an admission of overservice – clearly not equivalent actions. Given the RCMP’s credibility issues in the past surrounding liquor, it appears to be a situation where the lesser of two evils prevailed.

Conspiracy Theories

Out of consideration for Pierre Ouillet, we would be remiss if we didn’t include a conspiracy theory in here somewhere, so here it is: UBC is being overly nice to the LCLB in preparation for their own re-application for a liquor licence at T-Bird arena. The last time, if you recall, things didn’t go so well. (And remember: UBC didn’t shut themselves down like they did with Koerner’s, the RCMP and LCLB did it for them.) They are allowed to re-apply starting May 1, and it has been confirmed multiple times they are certain to do so. It’s clearly in UBC’s best interests to stay on the LCLB’s good side. Is it possible that liquor service at the GSS is being sacrificed so as not to jeopardize UBC’s own imminent application?

Other issues

According to a report for GSS Council by the GSS President, the GSS may be facing a lawsuit as a result of the incident involving the fall off the roof overhang. Presumably UBC would also be named in this suit, along with others.

Unsurprisingly, the Koerner’s staff is unhappy with the situation. More than half of them have either quit or been laid off and have sent an email to he GSS executive and council about it. Their biggest disappointment seems to be the fact that they were not kept in the loop, having gotten more info from UBC Insiders and the Save Koerners! Facebook group than from the GSS exec. There have also been questions about the continued employment of the GSS’s pub manager, including a motion calling for his dismissal during a council meeting.

Future of Koerner’s

For the GSS, the recommendations of their external review is the lens through which any path forward with Koerner’s must be viewed. In discussing the GSS’s business operations, the external review gave two options as major recommendations:

1) Lease out space to another group for use as a pub and/or contract out the management of the pub to another organization; or

2) Restructure the way the pub is operated and integrate it with the room bookings department.

The GSS is a mess (the external review is basically just pages upon pages of “everything. is. broken.”) and has been in steady decline to the point where they are now paralyzed. They are completely unable, or unwilling, to get the pub up and running again. Barring some unexpected outburst of competence, it seems unlikely that when Koerner’s re-opens it will be directly under the GSS’s management.

The external review goes further, to recommend either the AMS and UBC Food Services as the two primary candidates to take over management of the pub. It’s not a certainty that another organization on campus will take it over, but on paper this would be a win-win-win. UBC would have more confidence in either of them running the pub responsibly. The GSS, who is no longer very keen on being in the pub business, can get it off their hands. The AMS or UBCFS gets a new, but already well-established business at almost zero start-up cost.

However, if this was to happen, it’s not at all clear how such an arrangement would work. What would be the mandate of an non-GSS-run Koerner’s? Likely it would be profit, but for whom? Will the GSS charge rent for the space, or take a cut of any profits? Koerner’s never really made any money before, so some significant changes might need to be made in order to turn a profit large enough to make it worthwhile to a new operator.


1 Comment so far

  1. Alex Lougheed on May 9, 2010 10:02 pm

    The problem with subcontracting is that no one will take it up.

    I’m fairly certain the AMS pubs are a net loser if they were paying market rent for the space they occupy. I imagine the same would occur if the place was run by UBCFS, given they’d have to deal with union wages, ancillary levies, and their relative unfamiliarity with this particular demographic (though I’ve yet to scope out The Point Restaurant).

    None of this looks good for anyone. Personally, I’d love for the Law Students’ Society to take over control of the pub. They’re already reasonable share of the patronage, and are mature, responsive, and responsible (heck, Law Students started the Save Koerners group). This would also give Futurners a distinct ‘flavour’ from that of an AMS/UBCFS establishment.

    The only problem with everything here is the bottom line. I imagine students would be up to toss a couple of bucks annually for a worthwhile watering hole. Beats A/V and classrooms, that’s for sure.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet