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The $171 beer for ice fishers

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Here’s the thing about the law: it doesn’t breathe.

Yes, those reams of dead paper and lonely little sections of obscure provincial acts don’t mean anything until somebody decides they’re going to apply the law.

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We already all know this subconsciously, of course.

Why do gang members get stopped by police for traffic infractions when minivan Debbie in Linden Woods gets a free ride with a broken tail light?

Or a sex worker get ticketed for having an open can of beer? (as one complained to me recently) And so on.

And thus, that brings us to the quaint ice shacks that dot the ice near Selkirk and the recent round of ticketing by Mounties.

After police handed out about 12 tickets after one little afternoon on the ice, the story – a born colour story if there ever was one – seems to inspire outrage from people who feel they’re allowed to drink in the sanctity of their shack. Police say, however, they need to discourage impaired driving.

Leaving the whole question of jurisdiction out of it (who’s responsible for the river – the feds? The province? The City of Selkirk?), it seemed clear people felt the partiers deserve their suds as long as they’re not getting in anyone’s way. No way, says the law.

According to the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, you can be ticketed under two different sections of the law for having open liquor.

Section 112 prohibits people from having/keeping liquor in an unlawful place, while section 120 disallows people from having "liquor in a public place."

And according to the province’s Brown Book, that means a $171.30 fine, or a $231.50 fine under section 120.

So is everybody in the Selkirk ice shacks drinking? Hard to say.
Beyond all the dumb fishing jokes I could make about alcohol being necessary to survive such a mind-numbing activity (love the ice shack decor, though! It’s so kitsch I felt I’d stepped into a Coen brothers flick), it’s pretty clear drinking and fishing go hand-in-hand for some partiers on the lake.

I’ll hazard a guess – the drinking might continue, but so will the grumbling when the Mounties come to pass out tickets.

They’ll be back again before the year is out, they say, so ice fishers, you were warned.

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About Gabrielle Giroday

Gabrielle has handled the police and crime beat for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2009, meaning she’s seen the best and worst humanity has to offer.

Covering the crime beat in a city known for its homicide rate and violent crime can be challenging, but Gabrielle tries to look at the more complex factors that drive violent events. She began the beat after originally joining the Free Press in June 2005.

Her previous experience contributing to the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine, the National Post, Maisonneuve magazine and NOW Magazine. She was also a member of the editorial board of the Queen’s University Feminist Review, and completed a degree there in politics and English. Some of the Toronto native’s favourite adventures include hitchhiking in the Cuban countryside during a stint studying in Havana, and hanging off the back of a jeep climbing the Kanchenjunga mountain in Nepal.

Gabrielle also felt privileged to write about the first-time elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the summer of 2006, and received a grant from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian International Development Agency to write about sexual violence there.

She recently went to Cameroon in fall 2010 as part of an expert election monitoring team, on behalf of the Commonwealth.

When she’s not chasing a story, Gabrielle can be found jogging every morning by the Legislature and down Portage Avenue.

She’s always enthusiastic about stories that involve investigating the road less travelled or the opinion less broadcast.

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