TORONTO - Three liquor stores in the Greater Toronto Area recently sold booze to a 14-year-old boy whose identity was hidden because he was wearing a full-length burka and face veil at the time.
The teenager, clad in an Islamic female's traditional garb of a burka, headscarf and facial covering, shopped in three different LCBO stores north of Toronto last Wednesday.
In each location, the Grade 8 student paid cash for a bottle of sambuca liqueur.
Ontario's Liquor Licence Act requires that before liquor is sold, government-issued photo I.D. -- a drivers licence, for example -- must be inspected if the buyer is suspected of being under the legal drinking age of 19.
Under the LCBO's Check 25 program, employees can ask for ID from people who appear under age 25 -- a policy implemented in 1997 to prevent young people who appear older than their actual age from purchasing alcohol.
The stunt was co-ordinated and video recorded by Sun News host David Menzies, who has made a career out of lambasting Canada's politically correct institutions.
Menzies said the unopened bottles -- totalling just over $80 -- were promptly taken from the teen at the day's end but suggested the fact the boy was never asked to uncover his face or show photo identification at multiple store locations reveals a deeply ingrained reluctance on the part of Canadian institutions to challenge cultural practices, even when they conflict with broader societal goals such as preventing underage drinking. "The reason why you have to unveil is that is photo ID is absolutely useless if you don't see the actual face of the person," said Menzies, adding he came up with the idea after an acquaintance told him he had seen this happen at various LCBO locations.
"They didn't ask for an unveiling, and they didn't even ask for (photo identification) ... You say you're socially responsible, you have the policy codified ... but nobody follows it," Menzies said Monday.
Sun News Network's David Menzies films a 14-year-old boy wearing a burka at an LCBO outlet last week. The boy was able to buy liquor at three GTA stores.
LCBO spokesman Chris Layton said in an e-mail that employees have a responsibility to view customers' faces as part of the age-verification process, and if a customer's face is covered, "Staff are required to ask the customer to remove the covering."
This includes religious face coverings, as well, Layton later said in a phone interview.
"Maybe we need to remind our staff of their obligations under the Liquor Licence Act," Layton said, insisting that the employees may have been trying to be "culturally sensitive" in each situation.
"The last thing we want is minors purchasing alcohol ... That would be something we would certainly want to look into."
In his earlier e-mail, Layton mentioned past examples of customers attempting to buy booze with their faces covered, such as "a customer wearing a full-face helmet," and another wearing a Halloween mask. These customers, however, were told to reveal themselves.
Menzies, long a critic of the LCBO's "monopoly" over liquor sales in the province, attempted to meet with liquor board officials early Monday morning to ask why they were not enforcing their own policy but was sent an e-mail from Layton stating that stores "comply with the requirements of the Liquor License Act," and that they were not interested in discussing the matter on camera.
Menzies added that it is ironic that the LCBO places a strangle hold on the sale of liquor because it considers it a potentially dangerous and addictive substance, but that a 14-year-old burka-wearing teen can easily purchase booze at three of its stores, on the same day.
He then pointed to some jurisdictions in the United States where private retailers can sell booze but face stiff penalties if caught selling any of it to minors.
In the state of Oregon, grocery stores can sell beer, wine and spirits but face a month-long suspension and possible criminal charge if caught for a third time selling booze to an underager.
And in Alabama, a private retailer can face a $1,000 fine, suspension, or the complete revocation of their liquor licence if caught selling to an underage person three times.