Overcrowded Calgary nightclub a 'disaster waiting to happen,' judge says in imposing $40K fine

After breaking the law an "unprecedented" fourth time, Calgary's Bespoke Nightclub has been fined $40,000 for allowing an unsafe number of people inside.

Bespoke Nightclub appears to have shut down last month

The Bespoke Nightclub was fined $40,000 by a judge for its fourth over-capacity violation. (Google Street View)

After breaking the law an "unprecedented" fourth time, Calgary's Bespoke Nightclub has been fined $40,000 for allowing an unsafe number of people inside.

Overcrowding in the bar was "a disaster waiting to happen," said Judge Mike Dinkel in his decision released this week after the company that runs the Beltline bar pleaded guilty earlier this year.

In July 2017, between 345 and 420 people were inside the club, which can accommodate only 255 people safely.

It took nearly 90 minutes for fire inspectors to get enough people out of the bar for it to be safe. 

The club appears to have been shut down last month, before Dinkel's sentencing decision was handed down.

Evacuation would have been 'slow and chaotic' 

Safety codes officer Frank Schroder told Dinkel he doesn't know of any other business in the country that has ever been charged more than twice for similar offences, let alone four times — a factor that the judge found "extremely aggravating."

Getting everyone out of there had there been an emergency "would have been slow and chaotic," said Dinkel.

William Denis Yeung is one of the business owners who testified at the sentencing hearing earlier this year. He is also an owner of the cocktail lounge, Wednesday Room.

"It would have been a nightmare and potentially fatal for the very patrons Bespoke claimed to care for and wanted to protect," Dinkel noted in his decision.

Max fine: $500,000

The Alberta Fire Code rules are in place to ensure buildings can be safely evacuated in case of emergencies. 

In 2014 and 2015, the company pleaded guilty to three over-capacity offences and faced fines totalling $19,000.

The maximum penalty for this type of safety code violation is a $500,000 fine.

The lawyer for Bespoke previously argued the most recent offence was not part of the previous pattern of breaches, explaining instead that it was a result of "an unfortunate miscommunication between management and staff" due to tickets for a Stampede event being oversold. 

The same lawyer told Dinkel a $40,000 fine would at least cause the company to lay off some of its staff members and at worst could force the business to shut down.

"This conviction and fine will remind business owners that it is their responsibility to comply with all requirements of the Alberta Fire Code", said City of Calgary prosecutor Paul Frank in a written statement released through the fire department.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.