Some Niagara-on-the-Lake residents are criticizing the Niagara Regional Police for not enforcing the law after protesters were seen, accompanied by an underage girl, opening wine bottles and pouring out the contents on the street in front of the Icewine Village Saturday.
Police say they did not charge activists who dumped what appeared to be wine over their own heads, potentially violating Ontario liquor laws, during the Icewine Festival – because the dumped liquid apparently was just coloured water, with zero alcohol content.
Adam Stirr, co-founder of the group called At War for Animals Niagara, said he spoke with local law enforcement before the protest.
“Generally, we communicate with police to ensure the legality of what we have planned.”
He said for this specific demonstration he did inform the police that the group would not be using alcohol during the protest.
Const. Phillip Gavin said in an emailed statement that an investigation was conducted after the demonstration, but he did not provide details on how the investigation was conducted.
“I cannot speak to whether the officers knew or didn’t know about what was in the bottles. All police officers are afforded discretion, which is a key element in policing,” he said.
“Using discretion as to how, when and where an investigation takes place is part of that.”
Gavin confirmed that the liquid from the bottles was not tested forensically.
“We conducted an investigation post-incident … we did not forensically test it. We are satisfied that reasonable grounds do not exist for a charge under the Liquor Licence Act and there would be no reasonable prospect of conviction,” he said.
Many NOTL residents say they’re tired of watching police ignore illegal acts by the protesters, who have been staging events in town for almost two years, and allegedly committed numerous illegal acts in the process, receiving warnings each time from police.
Many people commented on a Facebook post of the article addressing Saturday’s protest.
“Is this proof that liquor laws are broken without recourse. Another blemish on our law enforcement,” Nick Bertoia commented.
A comment from Dorothy Bates on the Lake Report Facebook page called for more action from police and town officials.
“Town officials and the police should not allow these people on the streets. They are the ones that should be banned.”
“My question is how many laws are broken by having alcohol outside of a contained permitted area. Any restaurant would be crucified and fined thousands of dollars for it,” Vinny Bertoia said.
“What this newspaper photo and subsequent videos are an infraction of the towns special events permit under the Liquor Control Act and can classify as public indecency. So, in all reality every single person caught handling open alcohol outside the permitted boundary,” he added.
Gavin said that not every situation should be addressed immediately, “especially if in the consideration of the attending officer it may cause a further disturbance or cause the situation to unnecessarily escalate.”
He said taking an enforcement and zero tolerance approach would lead to police conflict with either side, “and we would lose much of the co-operation that we have had thus far.”
Stirr said more vigilant police presence on scene would have likely “caused more of a scene” drawing more crowds to the “spectacle.”
It wouldn’t have caused conflict between police enforcement and the activists, he said.
Gavin said the department’s aim is to preserve the rights of Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – in this case the right to a livelihood and the right to protest.
“We have strived to find balance between preserving the peace, enforcement and discretion and not causing a situation to unnecessarily escalate,” he said.