Prime Time Crime  


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Dec. 31, 2007)


Itís time for beer & wine aboard BC Ferries


  By John Martin

Since Expo 86, BC has slowly emerged from the Victorian era and cast aside many antiquated liquor laws. Not too long ago, you couldn't have a drink on Sundays, bars had to close on election day and import draft ales were considered contraband.

But while further reforms are forthcoming and others are in the discussion stages, there's one area no one dares mention--alcohol sales on BC Ferries.

Limited, controlled alcohol sales on the major routes is not an absurd notion. Other jurisdictions manage to do so without incident.

Providing an opportunity for travellers and visitors to sample some of the superb products from BC's small brewers and wineries is not unreasonable.

A small tasting area with strict controls in no way implies drunken carnage on the high seas.

It is an absurd and reckless leap in logic to assume a modest tasting room would result in drunken motorists plunging into the Pacific Ocean and causing pile-ups on exit ramps.

It reminds me of the previous federal election campaign when a Liberal strategist rejected Stephen Harper's proposal to give every family a hundred dollars, per child, per month, rather than set up a national day care centre.  The strategist pompously declared parents couldn't be trusted and would spend the money on beer and popcorn.

Of course the concept of serving alcohol on a ferry with a couple decks of cars below would be a tough sell. When rumours about this type of thing circulated a few years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was quick to raise the hue and cry. MADD has long advocated people who have even one drink before driving should be treated like criminals. It's interesting though, that they were quite willing to cut themselves a whole lot of slack when it was determined their fundraising strategies were deceptive and highly questionable. Investigators found that less than 20% of moneys raised were actually used for victim services and combating impaired driving. The rest went straight into the pockets of telemarketers and door-to-door canvassers. So it's unclear how legitimate a voice this group has in the area of social responsibility.

But if you think this through rationally, it's a reasonable and responsible proposition.

This isn't about a floating sports bar with cheap pitchers and shooter girls. Customers could be restricted to one visit to sample a selection of tastings and sales could be suspended well in advance of arrival time.

And keep in mind that the majority of ferry patrons are passengers, not drivers.

The route from the mainland to Vancouver Island is one of the wonders of the world. Why not complement the breath-taking scenery with a sampling of some of the finest craft ales and wines on the planet? B.C.'s small brewers are making world-class ales. Wineries throughout the province are setting the industry standard. Let's give first-time visitors and other ferry travellers the opportunity to sample these award-winning offerings.

And, rest assured, there are some built-in, institutional safeguards for such a proposal.

We are, after all, talking about BC Ferries, where it takes 45 minutes to get a grilled cheese sandwich.

Over-service and over-consumption are highly unlikely to ever be issues aboard this Crown corporation.

Bring on the tasting lounge.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


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