British Columbia

'The system is failing us': Whisky bar owners take B.C. liquor branch to court

The owners of Fets Whisky Kitchen are fighting a liquor branch decision to seize 242 bottles of its specialty liquor back in January 2018.

Liquor branch inspectors seized 242 bottles from Fets Whisky Kitchen in January 2018

Eric Fergie and Allura Fergie, owners of Fets Whisky Kitchen in Vancouver, are fighting the B.C. government on its liquor distribution enforcement. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The owners of a specialty whisky bar in Vancouver are taking the B.C. government to court. 

Eric and Allura Fergie of Fets Whisky Kitchen say their rights were violated when liquor branch inspectors raided their bar and seized hundreds of bottles in January of 2018.

They want the decision overturned, their bottles returned and costs to be recovered.

But despite the $100,000 they've spent fighting the issue so far, their battle goes beyond legalities.

Eric Fergie says he's stressed and frustrated by the challenges of working within the province's liquor distribution system.

"We're forced to do business with the worst supplier that the industry has," he said.

242 bottles seized

The couple filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 7 against the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.

In it, they argue the raid was conducted without a warrant and Allura Fergie was not informed of her right to have a lawyer or to refuse to answer questions at the time.

"We feel that the government breached their own rules and breached the charter and therefore we are holding them to account for it," said Eric Fergie.

Eric Fergie says it took four decades to collect one of the largest whisky collections in the country. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Inspectors confiscated 242 bottles of liquor, worth about $40,000, and the pair was later fined $3,000.

Three other B.C. bars were raided on the same day.

Following the raid, the Fergies asked the branch to reconsider the decision but it was upheld.

According to court documents, they claim the hearing was "prejudged" and a "mere sham" as they did not have the opportunity to submit evidence on the issue. 

'System is failing us'

The pair believe their bar was targeted because of where they bought their whisky.

Restaurants are required to purchase through the provincially run B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch. But instead, hundreds of Fets' single-malts came from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society collection.

The society is a whisky club that says it has the world's largest selection of single-cask, single-malt whiskies in Canada. Its website says members get exclusive access to the world's best selection of "fabulous and interesting malt whiskies right here in Canada."

Despite the ongoing legal challenges, Eric Fergie says he and his staff are keeping their heads high and are optimistic about the bar's future. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Eric Fergie says the decision to purchase liquor outside of government-run stores is common for bars and restaurants with specialty wine or cocktail programs.

"There's literally five vermouths and two amari that are sold in the LDB store," he said. "Which literally means there's really thousands of cocktails we're unable to serve." 

A search of the B.C. Liquor Store's products shows eight vermouths and two amari available.

"The system is failing us all," he said.

Prior to the raid, Fets underwent 21 other liquor inspections over the years without any trouble, Eric Fergie said. 

The B.C. government has until the end of the month to respond to the court petition.

The Ministry of the Attorney General, which oversees the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, said in an emailed statement it could not comment because the matter is before the courts. 

About the Author

Lien Yeung

@LienYeung

Lien Yeung hosts CBC Vancouver News Weekends. As a multimedia reporter, she has covered stories locally and nationally from coast to coast on television, radio and social media. You can reach her on Instagram or Twitter @LienYeung or via email at lien.yeung@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.