The new chief of the Halifax Regional Police wants to see bars in downtown Halifax close earlier, saying he believes rolling back the hours would reduce crime in the area.
"What we have found and what studies have shown is the later the bars are open, the more crime that occurs — specifically violent crime," said Chief Jean-Michel Blais.
Blais, who moved to Halifax two years ago and officially became chief of the Halifax Regional Police in October, said he has already started preliminary talks to change bar hours so cabarets would be forced to stop serving alcohol and close at 2 a.m. instead of 3:30 a.m.
Changing bar hours would require amendments to the Liquor Control Act — something people in the industry said they would fight.
"I'm not convinced that's going to be a good idea," said Peter Martell, the general manager of The Palace Nightclub on Brunswick Street.
"It's not going to be good for downtown and it's certainly not going to be good for the businesses that survive by staying open later."
The Palace Nightclub is one of eight locations in Nova Scotia that have a cabaret licence, according to the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia.
"Right now we have some bars that close at 1 a.m., some at 2 a.m. and some at 3:30 and we have the casino," said Martell.
"What that does is it helps filter the number of people swelling the downtown core. With the limited number of taxis we have now, I can only imagine the chaos if everybody exited at 2 a.m."
Need to talk
Mayor Mike Savage is reserving his opinion.
"I think we need to have a conversation with a lot of people at the table to figure out why is it happening. Hours may be part of it. Police presence could be part of it. And I think there are a number of points of view that we need to consider," Savage said.
John MacDonell, the provincial minister responsible for the Liquor Control Act, agrees that a larger conversation is needed.
"When the police chief raises concerns, I think we like to listen," said MacDonell.
Gordon Stewart, the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, said trying to close bars earlier is a knee-jerk reaction. He said turning back the clock on bar hours won't solve the bigger social issue of problem drinkers.
"You can't blame this on the cabaret industry. There's only eight cabarets left in Nova Scotia — they're not causing this problem, that's for sure," Stewart said.
"This is a much bigger social issue and everyone has a responsibility."
Stewart said many bars in downtown Halifax are doing their part by implementing the Pass Program, which can potentially suspend patrons from 20 bars in the area. The suspensions range from a few weeks to a lifetime ban.
Reducing cabaret hours would throw hundreds of people out of work and could close businesses, he said.