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Ontario’s booze regulator told a bar to collect names from takeout customers. Now it’s backtracking | CBC News

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Ontario’s alcohol regulator ordered a Toronto bar and bottle shop last week to record the name, address and purchase details of everyone who buys beer and wine to take home.

Now, just hours after CBC News contacted the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) about the order, it’s promising a review into the policy.  

The written order came last Friday from the AGCO to Bossanova, a boutique-sized licensed premises that’s been open since 2021 on Roncesvalles Ave. in the city’s west end. CBC News viewed the order and confirmed it was authentic. 

Dan Grant and his fellow co-owner, Ben Plisky-Somers, say they have never heard of any other bar or restaurant in Ontario being ordered to take down the names and addresses of customers purchasing booze for takeout and were baffled by the requirement. 

“Rules are rules, and if we have to do it, we’re going to do it, but it’s certainly affecting our business,” said Grant.

The shop’s shelves are filled with products that aren’t available at the LCBO, including artisanal wines and small-batch craft beer, and there’s a counter that serves as a bar for having a drink on site.

Bossanova stocks products that aren’t available in the LCBO, including artisanal wines and small-batch craft beer. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

While Bossanova’s owners say their staff had been diligently following provincial rules requiring them to record name and address details for all alcohol deliveries, they’d never done it for takeout.

The AGCO notice said that meant Bossanova was violating provincial liquor laws, and threatened to impose fines or to revoke its licence. After receiving it, the shop’s staff began telling each walk-in customer they must write their name and address on a form before they could walk out with any beer or wine. 

“Our customers are unhappy,” Grant said Thursday in an interview with CBC News. “We’ve had customers who have refused to do it and walked out. We’re not just losing a sale then, we’re losing a customer.”

Plisky-Somers added: “We pride ourselves on being compliant with all the government rules and regulations. That’s really important to us.”

Rule unclear

Premier Doug Ford’s government has generally loosened some of Ontario’s restrictions on alcohol sales since taking office in 2018, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The government allowed licensed bars and restaurants to sell alcohol with food for takeout and delivery starting in March 2020 as an emergency measure, and made the change permanent that December.

Exterior of bar and bottle shop with sign that says 'bossanova'
After CBC News contacted the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario about the enforcement notice against Bossanova, the agency announced an immediate review of the policy and dropped its threats to fine the owners or revoke their liquor licence. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

The AGCO warning letter to Bossanova cited provincial policy that says for all orders when alcohol is removed from the premises, licence holders must record the names and addresses of customers, the kind and quantity of liquor, and the price paid.

That policy includes takeout orders, but that contradicts an AGCO bulletin from March 2020 that said recording those details was only required for alcohol deliveries.  

The official notice to Bossanova — signed by the AGCO’s director of regulatory compliance Jamie Wannamaker and dated Feb. 23 — said an inspector found violations of Ontario’s liquor licensing laws at its premises last October.

While the co-owners were speaking with CBC News, a customer entered the shop, got help from a staff member to pick four bottles from the shelves, then reacted with surprise when she found out that she had to leave her name and address to be permitted to buy them. 

“I think it’s crazy,” the customer, Lisa Kiss, said in an interview. “It doesn’t make any sense to me and I want to know what (the AGCO is) going to do with that information.” 

CBC reporting prompts ‘immediate review’

“The licensee failed to record and retain the required information and records when liquor and food were removed from the licensed premises for takeout,” reads the notice.

About seven hours after CBC News contacted the AGCO’s media relations department with questions about the enforcement notice, the agency announced it will now review the policy on recording names and addresses and is dropping its threats to penalize Bossanova.

“The AGCO is undertaking an immediate review of this rule and will not be taking any further action on the matter with this licensee,” said the agency in an email to CBC News. “The licensee has been advised accordingly.”

Grant’s reaction: “That’s the best news I’ve heard in weeks.”

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