Cross Country Checkup·Checkup

Canada's restrictive booze laws: uncivilized or necessary?

During Cross Country Checkup’s show on the dangers of alcohol, Luis Rufo, who was originally born in Spain and but now lives in Calgary, called in to air his frustration over Canada’s restrictive policies around alcohol.
President of French far-right party Front National (FN), Marine Le Pen tastes wine as she visits Beaujeu village before the "Beaujolais Nouveau" traditional release. ( JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Italian town of Abruzzo, there is a public drinking fountain — not for water, but for wine, which freely pours from the fountain's spout any time of the day or night.

Europeans just have a relaxed attitude toward alcohol, said Luis Rufo when he called in to Cross Country Checkup to air his frustration over what he calls Canada's "uncivilized" alcohol policies.

Rufo, who was born in Barcelona but now lives in Calgary, pointed out that most European countries sell wine more cheaply and have fewer restrictions on drinking in parks and other public places than in Canada and the U.S.

"I've been in a park having a barbeque, and I couldn't drink a glass of wine," Rufo told Checkup host Duncan McCue. "That to me is uncivilized."

Rufo explained that in Spain, where the legal drinking age limit is 16, alcohol and food is paired together, which he says makes imbibing safer.

"When you consume alcohol you have to eat," insisted Rufo. "When I came to this country in 1968, I saw people going to lunch and they had six beers, eight beers, and that was their lunch. I couldn't believe it — for us, we go for lunch, you eat and you drink."

He went on to paint a picture of his life in Spain in the 1960s.

"I used to go at work — you know how you have your pop machines? Well, we had our wine machines and our beer machines," Rufo remembered.

"You could drink in the street as long as you didn't bother anybody."

The impact of drinking

Dr. Evelyn Vingilis, director of the Population and Community Health Unit at Western University, and a professor in Western's department of family medicine, told Checkup that food can slow down the absorption of alcohol, however does not curb the impact the alcohol has on your health.

Vingilis said she had done research comparing Canada's alcohol consumption to France.

"France did have higher per capita consumption levels than Canada, and despite the different approach to drinking, they also had higher rates of liver cirrhosis compared to Canada, and higher rates of alcohol-related crashes," she said. "Interestingly, they have been working to reduce consumption because of their alcohol-related harms."

Interestingly, Spain also has more cases of drunk driving than Canada. According to a World Health Organization report, in 2012, 17 per cent of Spanish men had car accidents that could be attributed to alcohol, whereas Canada only saw 13.8 per cent in the same category.

However, the same report showed 10.2 per cent of Canadian men suffered from alcohol use disorders compared to 2.3 per cent of men in Spain.

'One drink is too much'

Directly following Rufo, Simon Craig, from the Okanagan in B.C., called in to the show fresh out of a rehab treatment centre.

"I wish I could be that kind of drinker," said Craig, referencing Rufo's comments. "I've been an alcoholic all my life … I'm the kind of person who can't just have one drink."

Craig explained that he had been sober for 50 days — the lengthiest stretch he's been able to achieve in a long time.

"Being able to go to treatment, being in the centre where you can't drink, you're locked down, obviously you're going to stay sober," he said.

For Craig, the idea of drinking in moderation, "like a gentleman," is an impossibility.

"One drink is too much, a thousand isn't enough," he told McCue. "There's an allergy with myself and alcoholics like me, that when we drink we just can't put the plug back in the jug. It's just the reality of the situation."