Auction laws punish charities

For non-profit groups and charities that survived grant cutbacks, the provincial government has found a new way to add insult to injury.

For non-profit groups and charities that survived grant cutbacks of recent years, the provincial government has found a new way to add insult to injury.

Auctioning bottles of alcohol donated as gifts for  fundraising events is a big no-no – unless the government is guaranteed to get its cut.

The Belfry Theatre found this out three years after the fact, an oversight that will cost them at least $20,000 in fundraising this year.

The Belfry, a registered charity, was preparing for its third Crush event for this Sunday, where it auctions off privately donated rare wines from around the world.

This wasn’t a secret – the theatre company openly solicited for donations of fine wines and listed wines up for auction on its Crush website from 2010, including the names of donors.

For some reason, this year things were different. The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch denied the Belfry a special occasion licence to serve alcohol when it found out the theatre company planned, once again, to auction privately donated wines.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines, which oversees the LCBC, said it had been unaware until now that the Belfry auctioned privately donated wine. Apparently it was also unaware of the dozens of other B.C. charities that do the same thing year after year.

“This law has been in place for many years,” the Ministry of Energy and Mines told the News in an email.

It is odd the LCLB Special Occasion Licencing manual highlights those specific sections regarding charity wine auctions, indicating they were revised in June 2012. The province dismisses this as “housekeeping” – it insists the rules haven’t changed.

Either the rules haven’t changed and they weren’t being enforced until now, or the rules have changed without warning and the province won’t admit it.

Either way, the regulations are mean spirited and self-serving. Under the rules, the booze needs to be purchased directly from a government liquor store or donated from a liquor manufacturer.

B.C. is known for its antiquated and arbitrary liquor laws. The B.C. Liberals have brought some of B.C.’  liquor laws into the modern day. People can now bring their own wine to restaurants. Movie theatres can apply for liquor licences for adult-only screenings.

But these auction regulations are a step backwards and only serve to punish legitimate charities.