Nfld. & Labrador

How to prevent drugged drinks? Mandatory training for bar staff deemed necessary

When it comes to preventing sexual assaults and drug-induced poisoning, it's up to individual owners to ensure their staff are trained.
Registered nurse Travis Day told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show he believes he was drugged in a bar in downtown St. John's. (CBC)

Who is responsible for training bar staff to recognize drugged and poisoned drinks?

In Newfoundland and Labrador, it's up to individual venue owners to choose whether their staff will sign up for a voluntary training course, offered by Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador.

Craig Hapgood, a manager at the regulatory compliance division of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation, says there's no legislative requirement that bar staff get sexual assault prevention training — or any training at all.

"Right at this present moment, in legislation, it's not a legislative requirement," he said.

That might be alarming to some of the many people who reacted to registered nurse Travis Day, who told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show he believes he was drugged in a bar in downtown St. John's.

Day says he woke up with injuries and no idea what happened to him, and suspects his drink was drugged one night while he was downtown. (Submitted by Travis Day)

Dozens of readers commented on his story on Facebook responding to a CBC Newfoundland and Labrador Facebook post. Many of them said something very similar happened to them.

"Has happened to me. Never went to a bar downtown ever again," wrote Ian Power.

"Happened to my husband several years ago. He's 6-foot-1, 200 lbs and after just one drink he was 'wasted,'" wrote Catherine Cutler. "Good thing he was with co-workers who got him back safe."

Even though it's not required, Hapgood said, the NLC does recommend that establishments that hold liquor licences sign up for the Serve Responsible NL program, an online program from Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador.

The new program — which replaced a previous iteration — was launched in February, and has a new module covering sexual harassment and sexual assault.

"It's basically looking at ensuring safe spaces, as far as the establishments are concerned," said Larry Laite, chair of HNL's board of directors. "Identifying sexual harassment, explaining what drink spiking would be, explaining some of the date rape drugs that people have used."

"Giving our bartenders and stuff an understanding of what consent actually would be, and what it looks like."

Day, pictured here with his dog Zeus, suffered a black eye and scratches on his face. He woke up the following morning in the St. John's lockup. (Submitted by Travis Day)

The program is new, so not many have completed the training yet — but Laite estimates than half of the licensed establishments in the province had their staffs complete the previous iteration of the training program.

Laite said he'd like to see the new program become mandatory, but the provincial government has so far not made that decision.

Hapgood said NLC inspectors do regulate bar staff, but only in their capacity as agents for an establishment that must follow liquor sale regulations.

Larry Laite, chair of Hospitality NL and general manager of the Jag Hotel in St. John's, says his group designed a new training program for bar staff in consultation with the NLC. (Submitted by Hospitality NL)

"They have to be compliant in legislation in the sense of they have to be compliant with the minimum price, the service of drinks and hours of sale and cutoffs, sale to minors, and so on."

'I definitely know my limits'

Day said he went downtown to celebrate a friend's birthday, but remembered ordering just one drink at Lottie's, and waking up the next morning in the St. John's lockup.

He had scratches on his arm, two black eyes and a chipped tooth. He said he's convinced that this wasn't just his "own stupidity."

"I've gotten some criticism from people saying, your story, you were intoxicated, so what you're saying is coming from an intoxicated point of view," he said. "But my side of that is, you know, I'm 25 years old, I've had my experiences, I definitely know my limits."

He said he was shocked by how many people told him they had similar stories.

The George Street Association itself does not have any sort of mandate or role in training bar staff, added Jonathan Galgay, the head of the GSA.

The GSA recognizes it's a serious situation, Galgay said, but the training of bar staff is up to the individual venue owners.

Jonathan Galgay, executive director of the George Street Association, says bar staff training is up to individual venues. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

If a company that does any sort of training contacts the GSA about programs they would be willing to offer, the GSA would pass that on to its members, Galgay said.

Laite says stories like the one that Day shared are "infuriating."

"I'm the father of two daughters," he said. "And to think that something like that could happen to them, while visiting an establishment, is disturbing."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter, working primarily with The St. John's Morning Show.

With files from Stephanie Tobin


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