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BC to Permit Wine Charity Auctions, Problems Remain

After a week of uncertainty stemming from an LCLB directive to Victoria\’s Belfry theatre (see: LCLB Halts Charity Wine Auction, Others in Jeopardy), the BC government has issued a press release indicating that it will permit charities to fundraise by auctioning off liquor. The quick response on this issue is laudable. However, the press release is confusing because, in terms of immediate application, it only refers to permission for the auction of \”gift baskets or similar items that have liquor as one of its components\”. The issue that was raised by the earlier action against the Belfry and the one that is of central importance to charities is whether or not they may auction privately donated bottles of wine. The auction of privately donated wine for charitable fundraising has been going on in BC for years, and for decades in the case of some charities. In respect of this issue, the press release is unclear. Indeed, there is no mention of privately donated wine in the release at all. Unfortunately the release seems to indicate that charities may not auction off bottles of donated wine until new laws are passed: \”Charities that wish to fundraise using only liquor, without other items as a primary component of a basket, will have to wait until new legislation is in place.\”. It is not clear from the press release what the legal distinction is between the auctioning of a \’gift basket containing liquor\’ and liquor on its own. I have requested that the LCLB provide clarification on what is intended.

Update: The LCLB has now issued a policy directive on this matter (PDF) which, while clearer than the press release, will likely cause a number of problems for the affected charities:

  • The LCLB will permit the auction, without a license, of privately donated wine contained in gift baskets so long as the wine contained in the gift basket is not the “primary component” of the basket. If an auction consists of items which are primarily wine or if the event is primarily a wine auction then the event will need to be licensed. This distinction is impractical and appears to have no basis in law.
  • Licensed auctions can include wine donated from manufacturers/agents or purchased from the LDB. Privately donated wine is not permitted. This is perplexing because the LCLB has licensed hundreds, if not thousands, of events in the past that auctioned privately donated wine. Frequently, the privately donated wine is the most valuable (and thus most important) part of the auction.
  • The policy fails to take into account the unfairness that will be inflicted on charities who have incorporated charity wine auctions into their annual budgets and who have now had their financial stability up-ended by a sudden change in policy. In addition, the new policy will simply force private wine donors to auction their wine out of province causing a loss of charitable dollars and economic activity within B.C.
  • The government is promising to introduce new legislation to permit the auction of privately donated wine in the future but as the legislature is not sitting, it is not clear when this might be accomplished.

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