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B.C. restaurant that had $40K of whisky seized in ‘prohibition-style raid’ settles with province

Click to play video: 'Popular Vancouver whisky bar settles with province after legal battle'
Popular Vancouver whisky bar settles with province after legal battle
WATCH: A popular Commercial Drive bar has finally won a years-long legal battle against the province. – Dec 8, 2022

The owners of a Vancouver restaurant and whisky bar are declaring victory, nearly five years after provincial liquor inspectors seized $40,000 worth of product off their shelves.

Fets Whisky Kitchen will get the booze back, but only after they cease to hold their liquor licence and after they pay a $3,000 fine.

“Just a big sense of relief. It was finally over, we could move on, we could get on with the rest of our life, because it’s taken up a big chunk of it,” co-owner Allura Fergie told Global News.

“They were wrong, you’ve got to fight for what’s right,” added co-owner Eric Fergie.

Read more: $40,000 in whiskey seized from Vancouver restaurant in ‘Prohibition-style raid’

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In January 2018, liquor control officers accompanied by Vancouver police descended on Fets in what the owners at the time described as a “prohibition-style raid.”

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At issue was 242 bottles of whisky from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society which were purchased through a private liquor store. Under B.C.’s liquor control and licensing regulations, all liquor must be purchased through the Liquor Distribution Branch or authorized licensee like a micro distillery.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is an international organization that allows members to buy exclusive whiskies not available to the general public.

The Fergies challenged the seizure, but lost two appeals at administrative levels.

Click to play video: 'Government agents stage Prohibition-style raids'
Government agents stage Prohibition-style raids

In March, 2021, however, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled they had been denied procedural fairness because the province had refused to turn over documents relating to the run-up to the raid.

That was important, the Fergies argued, because the documents could have shown whether the raid was simply an inspection by the liquor officers, or part of a larger investigation with the potential for charges.

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The latter case requires the use of a warrant, the Supreme Court ruling noted, and the judge ordered the province to produce the documents and referred the dispute back to the administrative appeal level.

The Fergies say provincial officials never fulfilled that order, and not long before the matter was due to head back to court in October, they were offered a deal instead.

“That’s where we were headed, and we believe the government did not want to produce said documentation,” Eric said.

“So they came to us with an offer to return the whisky to us. And what we agreed to was to pay a $3,000 fine, but we got the whisky back.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General confirmed it reached an agreement with the restaurant over the seized liquor, which was purchased against the terms of the business’ liquor licence.

It said the owners had signed a waiver on Nov. 18 accepting the monetary fine.

“Under B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licensing Act, purchasing liquor from a source other than the Liquor Distribution Branch or a designated outlet is prohibited. It is also a contravention of the terms and conditions associated with a ‘food primary’ liquor licence,” it said.

“All liquor licences issued in the Province of British Columbia are subject to the terms and conditions of their licence. It is the responsibility of the licensee to ensure that their business practices are compliant with the terms and conditions of their licence, and that all aspects of the licence are operated lawfully.”

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The Fergies agreed to pay the fine, and acknowledged that the whisky had been purchased contrary to B.C. regulations — though say they hope their fight helps change those rules.

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“Don’t just lie down and take it. If you know in your heart that you have a fight then fight,” Allura said.

“Change in the liquor system as well, for businesses to be able to buy from private liquor stores, government liquor stores, it all comes from the same place, so why are we all not allowed access to it?”

It looks like the Fergies’ will be getting their hands on the liquor sooner than later.

After nearly 40 years in business on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, they’re selling the business on Dec. 23.

“It’s important everybody knows this legal fight we’ve had with the government plays no part in our closing,” Eric said.

“It’s time, we’ve had a great run, we’re just busy busy busy all the time.”

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