Vancouver bar claims government seizure of $40K in whisky breached charter rights

The Vancouver bar taking the B.C. government to court in an effort to recover $40,000 in whisky seized in 2018 has launched further court action alleging the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch breached its charter rights.

In January 2018, Fets Whisky Kitchen, a mainstay on Commercial Drive since 1986, was raided by B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch — 242 bottles of Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) single malt whisky were seized, and owners Eric and Allura Fergie were eventually fined $3,000.

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According to documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court last year, the branch received an anonymous tip in December 2017 that certain licensees were selling Scotch Malt Whisky Society products. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is a membership-based service that specializes in rare and exceptional single cask whiskies.

In B.C., licenced bars, restaurants and pubs are required to purchase any liquor through the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB). Although SMWS products are lawfully imported into the province and are available for sale to the public at some private liquor stores, under the government’s regulations licensees cannot purchase alcohol from private purveyors. SMWS products are not available through the LDB.

As a result of the tip, the branch investigated Fets, as well as The Grand Hotel in Nanaimo, and Little Jumbo and The Union Club in Victoria, and executed raids at all four establishments on the same day.

The Fergies, however, launched legal action Oct. 7, 2019 to have the decision reviewed by a judge. In addition to getting the seized whisky back, the couple is petitioning the court to have the branch’s decision quashed.

The couple launched further legal action earlier this month asking the court to declare that the branch breached their right “to be free from unreasonable search and seizure,” as well as “the right on arrest or detention… to be informed promptly of the reasons therefore,” and “the right on arrest or detention… to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right.”

Fets argues that the search was done without a warrant, and inspectors failed to inform Allura Fergie of her charter rights before beginning the interrogation on the day of the raid.

The couple is asking that the seized whisky be immediately returned.

Earlier this month, the Fergies launched an online campaign to raise funds to help cover legal costs.

To date, legal costs have exceeded $40,000, and Fets is committed to spending an additional $30,000 to take their fight to Supreme Court.

So far the gofundme.com campaign has raised more than $6,200.

None of the claims have been proven in court. The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch has not yet filed a response.

@JessicaEKerr

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