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'Huge, husky' teen – a.k.a. Agent 21 – entraps White Rock liquor clerk
Owners of the Sandpiper Liquor Store – one of them White Rock's newest city councillor – have been fined $7,500 by the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch for selling to a minor.
The penalty – due today (Friday) – was levied against Bill Lawrence and Judy Baker on Oct. 29, following a Sept. 6 hearing in Surrey.
Lawrence, who won a seat on city council in the Nov. 3 byelection, told Peace Arch News Thursday that he doesn't dispute the incident that led to the fine: one of his staff last spring failed to ask an underage customer for identification.
What he takes issue with is what he described as the "total entrapment" used to justify the fine.
"The liquor branch is basically on a witch-hunt," he said.
Lawrence said the "huge… husky" teen in question was working for the branch's Minors as Agents Program at the time, which was developed to test for compliance with laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors.
He "would easily be mistaken for a university student… looked the age of majority by a mile," Lawrence said.
As well, Lawrence is frustrated by what he says was a lack of opportunity during the hearing to argue mitigating factors.
He said he was prevented from asking the teen if he'd been served alcohol elsewhere, while not "on the clock" for the liquor branch. The answer to that question, he said, would have shown "him coming into the Sandpiper Liquor Store and not being asked for identification is not out of the ordinary."
"I'm sure the outcome of that hearing would have been different," Lawrence said.
The 17-year-old customer is identified in the liquor branch's written decision as 'Agent 21.'
The Sandpiper store, at 1235 Johnston Rd., was among 10 establishments visited by the teen March 12, and one of two where staff did not ask him for ID that day.
While Lawrence told PAN that rules around preventing minors from buying are "drilled into" staff regularly, enforcement-penalty adjudicator A. Paul Devine found evidence "falls well short of establishing that (Lawrence and Baker) acted with due diligence" to prevent such incidents.
The $7,500 fine is the minimum for a first offence. A notice that it had been levied also had to be displayed in the storefront for 10 days, a term which ended on Nov. 28. In the event of a second offence within 12 months, the penalty is a 20- to 30-day licence suspension.
Lawrence is confident there won't be a repeat, noting renewed efforts have been in place since the incident in question to further prevent minors from slipping through the cracks.
"We're saying start hitting the guys who look 30, 35 – make sure they have ID," he said.
Lawrence added that the issue with the liquor branch is "under review" but would not disclose what the review was looking at.
He said the incident has nothing to do with his work on White Rock council.
"It's unfortunate that it happened, but it doesn't reduce my ability to do my duties as a councillor," he said.