This past week, my social media feed was bombarded by responses to a BlogTO posting, brought upon by Last Call Toronto, asking: “Should last call in Toronto be moved to 4am?” Section 62.1(1) of the Liquor Licence Act states that:
The City of Toronto may pass by-laws extending the hours of sale of liquor in all or part of the City by the holders of a licence and a by-law may authorize a specified officer or employee of the City to extend the hours of sale during events of municipal, provincial, national or international significance.
Under the platform piece of BETTER nightlife, I would like to explore the possible benefits of extending liquor licenses and allowing business owners more flexibility in determining what is most effective for their establishments.
On February 20, Councillor Mike Layton moved a motion (which was approved 37-4 by City Council) to allow bars and restaurants (not nightclubs) in Toronto to serve alcohol at 7am during the last weekend of the Sochi Olympics. The results were not chaos and squalor in the streets. Far from it.
What Toronto experienced was not dissimilar from the German autobahn system; a network of 12,000km of roads without blanket speed limits for cars and motorcycles, which does not in fact lead to more accidents. Germany’s road deaths rate per 100,000 in 2011 was 5.7 — amongst the world’s lowest (ranked 170th of the world’s 192 nations). A lack of speed limits normalizes behaviour and smooths out excess caused by limitations.
Applying the autobahn idea to hours of alcohol service, we’ve come to see that Last Call Syndrome can be very dangerous; it creates a frantic binge before 2am, and within 45 minutes sends thousands of freshly drunk adults onto the street at once. It breeds aggression, fights, shootings, property damage, increased calls for police, and more dangerous conditions for transit workers and late-night clerks. 4am would provide a more gentle transition to the end of the serving period and cut down on crowds flooding the streets.
Toronto shouldn’t have to wait for cultural events such as TIFF, NxNE, CMW, and Pride to have extended 4am last calls. Many European countries as well as Australia and New Zealand take a harm-reduction approach to drinking establishments and allow alcohol to be served until 6am (or even 24-7 as in Hong Kong and London), which reduces the ancillary harm caused by a mandated closing time and Last Call Syndrome.
We also no longer live an age where conventional, 9-to-5 employment is the standard. We work nights, graveyard shifts, and early mornings. There is no single “happy hour” as is celebrated at bars and restaurants across America from 5-7pm. Where can Torontonians in the hospitality or medical industry go for “happy hour” to relax and have a coffee or drink when they finish work at 3am? This is one reason why illegal after hours venues exist.