‘Profits over people’: Liquor licence granted to 7-Eleven location near Western University

Londoner's including MPP Terence Kernaghan, Western University professor David Heap, and London and District Labour Council vice-president Jeff Robinson, oppose to sell alcholic at 7-Eleven on Western Road. Andrew Graham / 980 CFPL

Despite pleas from local business owners and community members, the Ontario Licencing Appeals Tribunal has awarded a liquor licence to a 7-Eleven near Western University.

The decision follows a month’s long set of  hearings by the tribunal over the AGCO’s decision to award liquor licences to 61 7-Eleven stores in 31 Ontario municipalities.

A spokesperson from the AGCO told Global News at the time that “these licences, if granted, would allow the sale, service and consumption of alcohol inside the stores only [and] take out of alcohol would not be permitted.”

Three 7-Eleven locations in London applied for a licence, including the recently approved location at 1181 Western Rd.

At hearings this past spring, multiple Western professors, neighbouring business owners, community members, and the London and District Labour Council testified that granting the licence would have a negative impact on the campus grounds and the community. Issues raised included the threat of increased physical and sexual violence, accidents related to impaired driving, and vandalism and human trafficking in the area

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“We heard from campus and community experts in sexual violence, addiction and human trafficking, and they all testified that a license like this one at this location would increase risk to people who are already vulnerable,” said David Heap, an associate professor at Western University who co-lead the opposition. “We know from the city that this is the most trafficked intersection in the City of London, and it can only get more dangerous if you add a little bit of alcohol to the mix, which isn’t going to make anything better for what’s already a hazardous intersection.”

Click to play video: 'Police warn impaired driving is on the rise'
Police warn impaired driving is on the rise

He added that the hearing also received testimonies from “two Western University officials who spoke to the very congested traffic in the intersection.”

“A lot of people are walking through it, driving through it, a lot of buses coming in and out, and a lot of people already jaywalking at that intersection, not to mention the thousands of underage students in residences, which are just steps away,” Heap said.

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He also said that the site is where a freshman student was killed in a homicide in September, 2021.

“It was a homicide following an alcohol-related incident at Western during orientation week,” he said. “We know that these aren’t hypothetical risks. These are very real risks.”

Jeff Robinson, former vice-president of the London and District Labour Council, also raised the student’s death in objecting to the location’s liquor licence application.

“There are a host of site-specific problems that all come together to make this location completely inappropriate for alcohol service,” he said.

Heaps continued: “All the witnesses we brought in had arguments that were based on their knowledge and their expertise… It wasn’t a general objection to alcohol. It was about selling it at this specific location and the conclusion was very clear to us: If there was any location which should be denied a license, it should be this one.”

However, the Ontario Licencing Appeals Tribunal announced this week that the application for the 7-Eleven Western Road location had been approved, saying that opponents to the licence did not establish that it would be against public interest.

“I find that the added parties failed to establish, on a balance of probabilities, that the issuance of a liquor licence is not in the public interest having regard to the needs and wishes of the residents of the municipality in which the premises are located,” the tribunal’s report reads. It also recommends that the licence be issued “without conditions.”

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In response to the tribunal’s decision, Heap said that it is “disappointing, but consistent with the Ford government’s priorities.”

“This whole saga began with Premier Ford traveling to Texas to declare that his friends at 7-Eleven were welcome to bring alcohol service to Ontario stores, and they’ve been doing everything they can to facilitate that,” he said. “But this is just one more example of our conservative government’s prioritization of corporate profits over community safety and people who value communities over corporate profits should take note of their priorities.”

Allowing convenience stores to sell beer and wine was one of Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 campaign promises.

Click to play video: 'Customer calls out 7-Eleven over license scanning policy'
Customer calls out 7-Eleven over license scanning policy

According to the tribunal’s decision, the liquor licence will require 7-11 to convert a section of the store to a 10-seat restaurant space that is separated from the rest of the store by a metre-high wall. Wine and beer would be served in the designated area daily from noon to 11 p.m.

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Heap said he does not know when alcohol will be available at the location, as further building and municipal permits are now required for the space.

“The tribunal applies the law. But I think people need to look at why we have a law which gives priority to a business’s presumptive right to have a license and make money over a community’s concern for safety,” he said. “From our perspective, those priorities are backwards.”

AGCO staff said in an email to Global News that “those that hold a liquor licence are subject to specific rules and regulations to ensure that alcohol is served safely and responsibly — for example, not to serve anyone who is intoxicated or underage.”

Global News has reached out to 7-Eleven Canada for comment but did not receive a response in time of publication.

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