Drunkenness and the Liquor Licence Act - What a Licensee Should Know


The Ontario Liquor Licence Act and Regulations govern all aspects of liquor licencing in the Province of Ontario. In addition to establishing the process by which a business may acquire a liquor licence, the legislation also regulates the manner in which alcohol is distributed and served in licenced establishments. The failure of a licensee to comply with the legislation can lead to an imposition of a condition on a licence, a suspension of a licence for a prescribed amount of time or worse, the revocation of a licence.

Under the Act, a licensee is prohibited from “permitting drunkenness” on their licenced premises. If a patron is suspected to be “drunk”, a licensee is required to take steps to have that patron removed from the licensed establishment. “Drunkenness” however is not defined in the Act or its regulations. Instead, whether a patron was or is “drunk” is to be determined on a case-by-case basis having regard to all the circumstances and context of each case.

Canadian courts have accepted that the effect of alcohol consumption on a human exist on a continuum ranging from no effect, to feeling effects, to being under the influence, to impairment, to intoxication, finally, to loss of consciousness. “Drunkenness” has been held to exist at the high end of this continuum (R v Hagarty, 2005 ONCJ 317). Traditionally accepted indicia of drunkenness include; glassy or droopy eyes, staggering, unsteadiness on ones feet, slurred speech, loud or disruptive behaviour, vomiting or loss of consciousness. To determine whether a licensee permitted drunkenness within the meaning of the Act, a Tribunal must be satisfied that the balance of the behaviour observed in a patron support a finding that a patron was, in fact, drunk while on the licenced premises.

The potential business consequences of the loss or suspension of a liquor licence to a licensee are obvious. Licensee’s that are faced with potential liquor licence violation should take steps to immediately seek the advice of legal counsel familiar with the options that are available to the licensee for the full resolution of their matter. Our office provides advice and representation on the full range of liquor licencing matters. If you have a liquor license issue, we would be happy to assist you.