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Homeless advocates raise alarms over cooking wine

TORONTO – You can’t buy beer in convenience stores in Ontario. But anyone can buy 750 ml bottles of 20 per cent cooking wine for less than $3 with no ID and no questions asked in some corner stores.

The cheap wine is a growing concern for homeless and public health advocates in north Scarborough.

Reverend Dr. John Stephenson is the rector at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church in Agincourt. His church supports drop in breakfast and lunch programs for the homeless and marginally housed in Scarborough. He’s noticed an increase in the abuse of cooking wine this winter.

“I didn’t realize how bad it was until the last month or so because one or two of our guests had said to us ‘John, we really messed up, we did this, we beat up this person, we got into trouble because we were into that.’ Their explanation of their behaviour was linked to (cooking wine),” he said.

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Norm Bergenon is a regular client at St. Timothy’s and the Agincourt Community Services Association. He says the price is right for a guy living on the streets.

“It’s cheap. A $1.40 a bottle and probably get it a block or two away from anywhere out here,” Bergenon said, referring to the Sheppard Avenue and Kennedy Road area of Toronto.

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Stephenson says the easy access to potent, inexpensive alcohol needs to be addressed, especially when it’s affecting the vulnerable.

“For the addicted personality that’s a temptation that just can’t be let go,” he said.

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Bergenon claims empty bottles of cooking wine are easy to find along Sheppard Avenue.

“I see the bottles all the way out to Meadowvale. There’s people drinking it everywhere. It’s all over the side of the road,” he said.

Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevc is the chair of the city’s Board of Health. He had no idea that the wine was so readily accessible in unregulated stores.

“To have cheap available alcohol and to have someone who is addicted to alcohol and who doesn’t have money…This seems to be a toxic mix to me.” Mihevc said.

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It was only last week that Premier Kathleen Wynne definitively ruled out the sale of beer in convenient stores. 

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Mihevc says it’s just poor legislative logic to allow the unregulated sale of wine in grocery stores.

“I don’t think it’s smart from a public health perspective,” he said, noting the city has no jurisdiction over the matter. “Something like this should be under the control of an LCBO”.

Bergenon’s view from the street is somewhat less varnished.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s killing people”