With students back in the city, Hamilton's nightclub district is lively once again. But with the influx of so many young people — many on their own for the first time — comes extra precaution on the part of some area pubs and bars when it comes to security.
"As the students come back it gets busier," said Gerard Wogan, general manager of Slainte Irish Pub on Bowen Street.
On a typical Friday and Saturday night he employs "six or seven" licensed bouncers to look out for up to 260 patrons.
Bouncers perform a variety of duties, from checking identification to making sure people who are already intoxicated don't enter the bar. They also act as security, protecting the safety of the patrons and the premises.
Wogan admitted that when alcohol and youth mix, there can be some tense moments.
"With a younger crowd — and when you give them alcohol — things happen."
But the general manager doesn't blame the young adults entirely for their occasional lapses in judgment. He tells his security staff and his bartenders to bear in mind that it's ultimately their responsibility to make sure that no one gets over-served.
"I tell them that we give them the alcohol. We can turn them into not nice people," said Wogan.
Most often a rowdy patron leaves with little fanfare or trouble, Wogan explained, conceding he rarely has to call the police to intervene either.
"It's rare that it gets that far."
Wogan doesn't need to call the police for good reason.
They regularly patrol the nightclub district, said Sgt. Terri-Lynn Collings, spokesperson for Hamilton Police Services. While she couldn't offer any firm numbers as to how many incidents the police are called to on a given night, she said that it's not "uncommon" to deal with disputes between patrons and bouncers.
Just how far a bouncer can go in escorting a patron off the premises is often what police are asked to investigate.
Collings said that where to draw the line between self-defence and excessive force has to be determined case by case.
"It's not that clear cut. Every case is different. Each investigation is separate."
Hamilton bouncers charged with assault
While incidences of violence may be rare, alcohol, youth and security forces do sometimes collide.
The Hamilton Spectator reports that three Hamilton bouncers are currently on trial at the John Sopinka Courthouse, charged with aggravated assault after an incident in September 2010 resulted in a McMaster University student being sent to hospital.
Wendal Jones, 50, David Sa, 34, and Lynden Anderson, 43, were charged after an altercation with Chuck Ezeh, who is now 25, at Club 77 on King William Street on September 12, 2010.
Ezeh, who was allegedly intoxicated, is reported to have engaged in three altercations with staff security that night.
At one point, during the third altercation he allegedly swung at Jones. Jones testified Monday that when Ezeh attempted to punch him a second time he slapped him in self-defence.
Ezeh is said to have hit the ground. After undergoing emergency surgery, Ezeh suffered a permanent brain injury. The three bouncers have pleaded not guilty.
As of September 11, the trial was ongoing.
Training for bouncers not 'hospitality-friendly'
Interest in smoothing relations between security staff and patrons hasn't gone unnoticed provincially. In an effort to improve safety, in 2007 Ontario's Private Security and Investigative Services Act came into effect. The legislation required private investigators and security guards, which includes bouncers, be licensed.
To get a license, individuals must take a 40-hour training course, submit to a test, and then apply to the province and undergo a background check.
Few in the bar and restaurant industry welcomed the legislation, however.
The training itself isn't hospitality-friendly, said Brandy Giannini, manager of government relations for the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA).
"The training is very extensive and covers weapons," said Giannini, who points out that it doesn't address "customer service and [issues related to] alcohol."
"Training should be more hospitality-specific," she said.
Useful or not, there's incentive to ensuring bouncers have their licenses. Individuals convicted for working as unlicensed security guards can be fined up to $25,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. Businesses convicted for employing unlicensed security guards can be subject to a fine of up to a maximum of $250,000.
Not hiring a bunch of thugs
Wogan, who hires only licensed bouncers, said that in addition to training, bouncers go through an in-house training process that's specific to each business.
"I'm not hiring a bunch of thugs," he said. "I tell them not to react or take anything personally. It's necessary to take a certain amount of abuse."
One Hamilton bouncer, who asked not to be identified, said that he's never had to physically restrain anyone and that most people leave when asked.
"It depends on the type of place you're working at," said the bouncer who works at a bar that's frequented by a range of age groups.
Wogan, who is originally from Ireland, has a unique perspective on the Hamilton bouncer-patron dynamic.
"[Patrons] are a lot easier to deal with here. They'll just go home. In Ireland, they'll stand outside of the door screaming at you," he joked.