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'Immediate public safety concern': Officials explain recent liquor licence suspension at Vancouver restaurant

People dancing was only part of the issue
Tocador posted a note on Sunday, Feb. 25, raising issues with the liquor control board's punishment for the restaurant's New Year's event.

The B.C. ministry that oversees the agency responsible for enforcing the province's liquor licencing laws is clarifying what led to a Vancouver restaurant's temporary closure this week. 

Tocador, a restaurant in Mount Pleasant, shared on its social media on Feb. 25 that the business would be closed for three days after its liquor licence had been temporarily suspended. 

According to Tocador's post, the suspension is the result of an incident on New Year's Eve when inspectors found the establishment was over capacity and people were dancing at around 11:50 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2023.

In their post, Tocador's operators raise several issues, including a lack of understanding from the government and "archaic laws" around restaurants including dancing.

"We are incredibly disappointed with the government's decision and lack of empathy for restaurants and small businesses," state owners.

When Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) inspectors visited the restaurant they observed multiple issues, according to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

V.I.A. has asked to see the subsequent decision regarding the suspension but has not been provided with a copy as of publication.

Inspectors allege Tocador's capacity was exceeded by over 50 per cent

"LCRB Inspectors identified [Tocador's] capacity was exceeded by more than 50 per cent," states the ministry in an email to V.I.A. 

The ministry did not provide a specific number. According to B.C. liquor licence records, Tocador's capacity is 54 so to be more than 50 per cent over capacity an extra 28 people would need to have been present; the restaurant claims they were over capacity by about 20 people.

Tocador's New Year's Eve celebration was promoted by the business on its Instagram and tickets were sold through the restaurant's website. 

The business operators have not indicated whether they had oversold the event. 

Dancing and other issues

The ministry highlights overcrowding and the resulting safety issue as the primary cause for enforcement action but adds that inspectors noted other concerns on their Dec. 31 visit. 

"While the enforcement action taken by the LCRB focused on the overcrowding issue due to its immediate public safety concern, other contraventions were noted during the inspection including allowing unauthorized patron participation entertainment (dancing)," reads the statement.

While Tocador raises objections to dancing regulations in restaurants in its post, the business operators do not clearly state if they understood dancing was not allowed during their New Year's eve event.

However, in the post promoting Tocador's NYE event "lots of dancing" is promised. 

The ministry also notes inspectors allege Tocador was "operating outside of primary purpose" while they were there.

Tocador has a food primary liquor licence, which means the" primary purpose is the service of food" according to a provincial guide book. That includes requirements like the kitchen must be fully equipped to produce food, a varied menu, "decor suitable for dining and table service," and an appropriate name. Any entertainment must not distract from the food.

The ministry says the restaurant accepted the three-day licence suspension for overcrowding, over a $3,000 fine.

Municipal involvement 

While Tocador appears to point to the "city" as being involved with the inspection and licence suspension, the City of Vancouver says it wasn't involved in the incident. Much of Tocador's ire is directed toward the "city," however, in this instance, the liquor licence in question is the one issued and enforced by the province.

"The City of Vancouver did not visit the restaurant and did not suspend the liquor licence of Tocador Restaurant. Liquor regulations are under the purview of the Province," explains the City in an email to V.I.A. "The business owner should contact the Province regarding their liquor licence if they have questions about the liquor licence suspension."

Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, which is a municipal-level agency, was not involved with the Dec. 31 inspection, but in an email to V.I.A. a representative for the VFRS noted they had attended Tocador on Dec. 29 and noted "numerous fire and life safety violations."

V.I.A. has reached out to Tocador several times for comment but has not received a response.