Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975


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First Nations and Alcohol 1939–75

Canada’s participation in the Second World War effort included members of First Nations, who volunteered for service, as Olive Dickason (1992: 326) points out, “at a rate that compares favourably with that of non-Indians” (see also Stevenson 2001: 37–50). During the war, enlisted Indians enjoyed legal access to liquor while they served abroad, but the LCBO reminded its staff repeatedly that just because “an unenfranchised Indian is, or has been, a member of the Armed Forces [it] does not alter his status as an Indian. He is still prohibited” (LCBO Circular no. 3940, 1948).

As these soldiers returned home and sought to assert their rights, convictions under the Indian Act rose. Of course, First Nations veterans did not take these insults passively. Many chiefs and participants in the 1953 fact-finding tour of the Ontario government’s Select Committee on Indian Affairs pointed out that community members forced both beverage rooms and legion halls to serve First Nations veterans. A Band councillor at McGregor Bay put it succinctly: “The Indian served in the Armed Forces, but then when he gets out, they take his privilege away — let me get shot, but not half shot” (Ontario 1953: 364).

In 1951 legislation within the Indian Act changed, now allowing the provinces to determine whether or not to give Indians the right to drink, specifically allowing “consumption in a public place in accordance with the law of the province” (c.29, s.95). In 1954 Ontario decided to do so, though the Indian/Interdiction prejudicial stereotype remained a powerful force. Like “drunkards” who had regained their drinking rights, Indians would have to “show the Federal Government that [they] were capable of taking a few drinks and be law-abiding” before they were given full drinking privileges and the right “to have beer and liquor on the reserves” (Robson quoted in Cole 1953: 560). Indians now were legally considered to be under a partial Board order. They had the right to drink in licenced premises but not the right to purchase liquor from LCBO stores. As head office explained to LCBO employees:

Section 95 (1) of the act provides that intoxicants may be sold to an Indian for consumption in a public place in accordance with a law of the Province where the sale takes place authorizing the sale of intoxicants to a person for consumption in a public place. This means within the Province of Ontario, Indians may be served in establishments which are holders of licences issued by the Liquor Licencing Board. It does NOT mean that Indians may purchase spirits, wine and beer from Ontario Liquor Control Board Stores (LCBO Circular no. 4753, 1954,, emphasis in original).

And, at the level of store signage: “Relative to sign No. 1A1037 over R. 3187 concerning the sale of intoxicants to Indians. This sign may now be removed from display. This action, however, does not alter the fact that you will continue to refuse selling intoxicants to Indians” (LCBO Circular no. 4804, 1954).

As First Nations leaders from across the province had predicted, their new rights did not solve the problems of differential classification, and many of their people quickly found themselves formally listed by the LCBO (Ontario 1953: 542). As one chief of the Sarnia Indian Reserve explained:

If we took the privileges that you suggest, I could go to the beverage room and have a few drinks. Then if I came home to the reserve drunk, the RCMP would throw me in jail. It just looks like a trap to me. If we wanted a glass of beer, and could take it home, that would be better. With the present set-up, liquor is an awful detriment to the Indian. It is not a fair thing (Ontario 1953: 543).

First Nations peoples first gained the right to purchase liquor legally from LCBO stores in October 1959, but this ability was only granted if their home reserve had petitioned the LCBO to gain a “wet” classification and if the local vendor did not believe that any individual circumstances existed that called for an individual to be barred (LCBO Circular no. S-363, 1959).

Although the Board had arranged for signs that ordered the exclusion of Indians in 1954, it continued to inform local vendors of the change in policy as late as August 1960 (LCBO Circular no. S-467, 1960). After 1954 First Nations peoples were overrepresented on both the Interdicted List and in interdiction-related convictions until the list’s demise in the 1990s. Before 1949 no interdiction-related convictions had occurred in Ontario, but they increased substantially to over eight hundred individuals by the late 1960s and “coincidentally” appeared alongside the right to purchase alcohol acquired by First Nations.

By the 1970s, when formal criteria were applied to the interdiction process, convergence had run its course.


<< Canadian Legal Classifications and First Nations       
Interdiction and the “Indian List”
Prototypical Classification
The LCBO and the Classification of Indians
First Nations and Alcohol 1939–75
The Impact of Prototypical Classification
The Impact of the Indian/Interdiction Classification >>