Part of a report SSMU’s Executive Committee re-leased to Council last Thursday approved certain drinking games in Gerts, prompting extensive debate amongst councillors. The discussion was subsequently struck from Council’s minutes and several SSMU executives asked reporters from The Daily not to report on the subject.
Many councillors and executives were concerned that the committee’s decision about drinking games was illegal and could jeopardize SSMU’s liquor license, which is being negotiated with the administration as part of SSMU’s Memorandum of Agreement (MoA).
Quebec’s Régie des alcools regulations state that “drinking games that encourage excessive consumption over a short period of time are prohibited.” Permit holders who violate this policy are fined for their first three offenses and can then be called before the Régie where, if the board finds they are not responsibly serving their patrons, they could lose their permit.
SSMU President Zach Newburgh addressed the law in an interview with The Daily, saying that it is ambiguous with regard to certain drinking games.
“I would say there’s definitely a grey area in the law about what constitutes the rapid consumption of alcohol. For individuals who are having a good time, there should be a degree of lenience, and I think that this degree of lenience has certainly been applied to other bars across the city of Montreal. Why not Gerts as well?” he said.
The report in question, which is signed by Newburgh and available to the public, stipulates that “The executives approved that the following games shall be permitted in Gerts: power hour, card games, chanting and drinking, and quarters.”
Newburgh clarified his reasoning for approving the games: “We are not in any way promoting or permitting any kind of games that resemble beer pong, flip cup, or king’s cup, any of these that really would be blatant violations or at least be very questionable violations of this grey area in the law.”
He continued that, “Upon the request of an incredibly large number of students to play certain games in the bar, we chose that it may be appropriate for these games [in the report] to be played because it’s very difficult to tell whether or not they’re drinking games.”
Amara Possian, a councillor and Arts senator, described her surprise at the executive committee’s decision. She explained the potential legal implications had the report been passed.
“I’m not sure why the executive committee thought it was appropriate to bring this up at Council,” she said.
“By officially allowing drinking games in Gerts, SSMU would be jeopardizing their liquor permit. The fact that the executive openly stated, in Council, that they were allowing these specific drinking games because they didn’t look like drinking games makes the situation much worse, because it makes it seem like they were trying to undermine the law.”
In an email to The Daily, Arts representative Zach Margolis countered Possian’s assessment.
“No one is trying to fly under the radar to avoid provincial laws,” he wrote. “This was just something that was not fully thought through before being brought forward. … Clearly SSMU…[has] no intention of trying to circumvent Quebec law. As I understand it, this was simply an attempt to ensure all of our rules are enforceable and to avoid any confusion by patrons of Gerts.”
“As no decision or change to our regulations was made, this does not impact our relationship with McGill or the Quebec Régie des alcools in any way,” he added.
When it came time for Council to vote on accepting the executive committee’s report, a decision was made to divide the question, allowing for the section of the report pertaining to the approval of drinking games to be committed to the Operations Management Committee and separated from the remainder of the report.
The committee is composed of Management representative Matt Reid, VP Finance and Operations Nick Drew, SSMU General Manager Pauline Gervais, Possian, and Margolis.
Possian spoke to The Daily about Council’s decision to move the discussion to a committee.
“Ultimately, this is somewhere where Council did its job very well. We caught the executives’ mistake, and by dividing the question and not passing the part of the executive committee’s report regarding drinking games, we stopped SSMU from jeopardizing its liquor permit,” she said.
Despite the fact that Council did not pass anything regarding drinking games at Gerts, Drew emphasized the risky nature of making the debate about drinking games public.
“I’d just like to stress that this report [on the Executive’s approval of certain drinking games at Gerts] is a highly sensitive issue, because we’re negotiating our lease with the administration,” Drew told Council last Thursday. “If they knew that we were thinking about allowing this, we might lose our alcohol permit. I just want to make sure [Council] is aware of the implications of making this information public and not confidential until our MoA is signed.”
Newburgh admitted that it was inappropriate for the issue to have been discussed at Council.
“Ultimately this piece of information should’ve been discussed and decided upon by the operations committee, rather than in the Legislative Council forum. Each of our operations should have the autonomy and independence to be able to work with and deal with such issues,” he said.
—With files from Michael Lee-Murphy