Nova Scotia

Dalhousie's student-run bars go dry amid dispute between school, student union

Dalhousie University says the student union is not following policies on safe serving of alcohol, which left the school with "no other option" than to suspend bar services.

University says Dalhousie Student Union is not following policies on safe serving of alcohol

Dalhousie University's student-run bars, including the Grawood and the T-Room, are no longer permitted to serve alcohol. (CBC)

Dalhousie University has suspended the serving of alcohol at campus venues operated by the Dalhousie Student Union, saying the union has not been complying with policies on serving alcohol safely.

A memo sent Friday by the university's vice-provost of student affairs to the school community said the student union informed the university's board of governors this week that it will no longer follow the school's alcohol policy, "leaving the university with no other option but to suspend bar service provided by the [student union]."

"We are not willing to waiver on our commitment to place the highest priority on the safety and well-being of all members of our campus community," said the memo, signed by Ivan Joseph.

Under Dalhousie's liquor licence, the student union runs the Grawood pub on the Studley campus and the T-Room on the Sexton campus, as well as bar services for some catered and on-campus events. The Grawood and T-Room are not closed, but they will not be permitted to serve alcohol.

The suspension does not affect the University Club or special events at the Dalhousie Arts Centre, because they are not operated by the student union.

The memo does not specify which aspects of the school's alcohol policy were not being followed.

Options being explored

The university did not make anyone available for an interview on Friday.

According to the memo, a restructuring within the student union earlier this year changed how bar services were delivered this fall. It did not elaborate on what those changes were.

The university said despite efforts to work with the student union, it "has not been willing to follow the policies, procedures and expectations regarding the safe serving of alcohol."

The university is now exploring other ways to offer bar services on campus, the memo said.

University contravened alcohol policy: union

Dalhousie Student Union president Aisha Abawajy said the union has been diligently following both the university's alcohol policy and all the requirements of the province's Alcohol and Gaming Department.

She said it's the university that is not complying with the school's alcohol policy.

Abawajy said in July, the university unilaterally decided to remove the liquor license designate position — the person who approves licensed events on campus and ensures the alcohol policy is being met — from the student union and instead installed a non-student union employee in the role.

A memo from Dalhousie University's vice-provost of student affairs says the school is exploring other ways to offer bar services on campus. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Abawajy said that is in contravention of the alcohol policy.

She said the new liquor license designate has implemented new procedures that have not been outlined or approved by the alcohol advisory committee, which is also in violation of the policy.

Having the position within the student union "made sense operationally," Abawajy said, as it allowed the union to monitor bar services better.

The letter from the student union that was sent to the board of governors simply affirmed that the student union would no longer be involved in the approval process for licensed events, since the liquor license designate position was taken away from the union. 

Highly trained staff

Abawajy said staff have not been serving alcohol unsafely.

"Our bar staff at the Grawood and the T-Room are highly trained and have been doing a great job of implementing a harm reduction approach with their students," she said, adding that having a completely dry campus is not in keeping with harm reduction strategies.

The student union said staff are hoping to get bar services up and running as soon as possible. Asked whether the union plans to try to obtain its own liquor licence, Abawajy said: "No comment."

'We are as disappointed as you are'

In a letter to Sexton campus students circulated online, the school's undergraduate engineering society said it was not confident the student union took all possible steps to avoid the closures.

"We are as disappointed as you are about these events and are doing everything we can to remedy this frustrating situation," the letter said.

The society's president declined to speak with CBC News.

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