School is out and teenagers across Hamilton will be celebrating the beginning of the summer break.

For many of them this will mean attending end of the year parties and barbecues with food and friends.

And alcohol.

Serving alcohol to minors is illegal in Ontario. However, the Liquor License Act allows parents to serve their children inside the family home and, so long as they’re not being served, it doesn’t prohibit other minors from drinking inside the home.

Many parents feel that they can control the environment if kids are drinking inside the home. After all, teenagers are going to drink anyway, and it’s safer to do it in the home than out in the bush, right?

Maybe not.

Under age drinking

"The problem with allowing kids to drink in the home is [under age drinking is] against the law," said Neil Jones, a Hamilton lawyer, in an interview with the CBC. "You’re allowing them to do something against the law – you’re facilitating it."

Jones served as counsel during a coroner’s inquest for the family of Chris Skinner, a 17 year-old who died of alcohol poisoning while drinking at a friends house – while the parents were home in 2010.

The inquest jury recommended that the Liquor License Act be changed to not allow any underage drinking in the home, something Jones said police were on board with.

While some parents may be concerned that this would encourage kids to drink in a more dangerous setting, Jones argued that while bush parties are not ideal, minors shouldn’t be in an environment where they feel comfortable about breaking the law

"Parents have to be aware of creating a sense of approval around breaking the law," he said, which could lead to further problems down the road.

Homeowner liability

There is also the potential for civil litigation if something goes wrong in the home, warned Insurance Board of Canada spokesperson Pete Karageorgos.

"It’s a lot like if you don’t clean the ice of your front steps - it’s the same concept if you’re hosting a party," he said. "If someone slips on the steps, they can sue. If someone has a few drinks, climbs up the side of the house and jumps into the pool from the roof the owner may be liable for their safety."

Karageorgos also warned that hosts of any party may want to review their policy before their guests arrive.

"You cannot insure illegal acts, so doing something like serving alcohol to minors may void the policy, depending on the company and policy wordings."

"It comes down to duty of care," he added. "You’ve got to be responsible instead of irresponsible because at the end of the day the host can be found liable."

Six tips for good hosts

Both the LCBO and MADD condemn under-aged drinking. However, the organizations outline some basic steps hosts should take to ensure the safety of their guests and limit their liability.

  1. Serve sensibly: Keep an eye on the alcohol consumption of your guests, in addition to your own. Be careful to make sure no one is over served.
  2. Have designated drivers: Arrange transportation beforehand to ensure no one gets behind the wheel after a night of drinking.
  3. Serve Food: Food can help curb alcohol absorption and limit its intoxicating effects.
  4. Have a Designated Bartender: The LCBO warns that people are more likely to over serve themselves than others. Having a designated bartender can help make sure drinks are properly measure and evenly served.
  5. Limit the Guestlist: Often times big parties can get out of hand and it becomes difficult for the host to control what’s going on. Keep the guest list strict so you know who to expect.
  6. Check your Premises: As the home owner/occupier, you are responsible for what happens on your property, including any injuries that may occur, even if your guest is intoxicated. Take steps before a party starts to ensure your home is reasonably safe.