Labatt penalized for role in Queen’s keg parties

Christine Dewulf ArtSci ’03 and Jamie Gray ArtSci ’02 casually supporting Labatt.
Christine Dewulf ArtSci ’03 and Jamie Gray ArtSci ’02 casually supporting Labatt.

Labatt’s profile at Queen’s will be lowered next year by sobering sanctions imposed in a recent ruling of the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission. During last fall’s crackdown on keg parties, Kingston Police uncovered involvement by several prominent breweries, including Molson and Sleemans.

While the investigation into Molson’s activities at a party last fall have been dropped for lack of evidence, Sleeman remains under investigation for its role in another Queen’s Homecoming party. To date, Labatt is the only company to be reprimanded by the commission.

According to Police Chief Bill Closs, the crackdown was intended to send two clear messages, “One was to organizers of parties telling them if they want to have parties, have safe parties. And we wanted to get the attention of the breweries to practice what they preach in terms of responsible drinking.” Labatt came under fire from the Commission for its involvement in promoting and organizing an illegal Homecoming keg party last year. As a result, the brewery has been barred from promoting any of its products on campus for one full year. A Labatt student representative was directly linked to the organization of an illegal keg party last September 27 when he furnished the event with 27 kegs without obtaining the mandatory purchase form required by Ontario liquor laws. In addition, the representative helped to promote the party by providing Labatt paraphernalia and by parking a company van outside the house in order to draw attention to the event.

At a hearing held in late July, the Commission found that Labatt’s actions clearly violated the Ontario Liquor License Act and imposed a reprimand including a total ban on all promotions and advertising on Queen’s campus effective August 1, 2000 and ending August 1, 2001.

Among the sanctions imposed:

  • Labatt must cease all of its corporate promotions, including advertising and sponsorship at Queen’s for a full year. Furthermore, the brewery must not engage in any promotions in Kingston that are targeted at students, excluding only its “Fresh Heads” responsible drinking program. Though Labatt’s products and pre-existing banners may remain, no new promotional materials will be permitted.
  • Labatt cannot employ a campus representative in Kingston for one full year.
  • All of Labatt’s campus representatives in Ontario must now be full-time employees of Labatt and not students working part-time.
  • Labatt’s sales representatives must be fully aware of the nature of any event being sponsored in order to minimize the chance of a recurrence of last year’s events.

Jeff Newton director of public affairs for Labatt Breweries Ontario expressed his company’s regrets about the incident, calling it an “administrative oversight.”

According to Newton, the Queen’s Labatt representative was hired at the local level and was never properly trained in the important legal aspect of his job. As a result, he was unaware of the potential repercussions of his actions.

“The way he conducted [the event], using Labatt’s materials, made it appear to be a Labatt event, and he shouldn’t have done that. From a corporate point of view, we should have been more diligent in making sure he had the full regulatory training afforded our other campus reps.”

Newton was also quick to distance Labatt’s other promotional activities from this particular incident.

“This was not a corporate effort to systematically support illegal events... it was an isolated incident involving an improperly trained rep,” he said.

While the aim of the Commission’s reprimand is clear, its impact on Queen’s businesses such as Alfie’s Pub and the Queen’s Pub are more difficult to predict.

According to Alfie’s Manager Kevin Hurley, Labatt’s absence on campus will be noticeable to patrons. He was not convinced, however, that the ban would have a serious impact on business.

“The impact is going to be felt primarily by our patrons through the loss of certain promotional prizes that Labatt provides, however, there won’t be a quantifiable loss to our operating budget because Labatt doesn’t contribute financially to Alfie’s,” he said.

Hurley was also optimistic about the possibility of other companies moving in to fill the gap left by Labatt.

“Their absence may open the door to many similar promotions by direct competitors and smaller companies.”

For Hurley, the only negative consequence of the Labatt ban is that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce a ban on student-targeted promotions in off-campus establishments. Because of this, popular promotions may move to off-campus bars, potentially diverting some business from campus bars.

“While popular promotions such as Freedom Friday and the Kokanee Meltdown will be banned from campus bars, it’s pretty hard to prove that they aren’t aimed at the general drinking public, so students will still have access to them, just not on campus,” he explained.

—With files from the Whig-Standard

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