FED up with problems with public drunkenness, aggressive panhandling and booze-fuelled violence, property and business owners in Winnipeg's downtown are speaking out for changes to how the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission enforces liquor laws at area beverage rooms and hotels.

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This article was published 27/2/2009 (4593 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

FED up with problems with public drunkenness, aggressive panhandling and booze-fuelled violence, property and business owners in Winnipeg's downtown are speaking out for changes to how the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission enforces liquor laws at area beverage rooms and hotels.

The MLCC is "licensing mayhem" that spills out onto the street, creating a massive public safety problem and ruining hopes of turning the area around, they say.

For 10 years, David Rattray has been growing his business, FineLine Solutions, located at 230 Garry St. Today, it now has 200 employees.

And in that time, Rattray said, he's watched those people struggle daily with threats, intimidation -- and, on occasion, outright violence -- while heading to work and leaving.

He claims it's because of a "non-stop stream" of often-intoxicated thugs persistently lurking around the Garrick Hotel across the street.

Despite frequently voicing his concerns, Rattray said, he's still caught in the middle between an MLCC he says refuses to take responsibility for what happens outside bars and a resource-strapped city police force.

"At the end of the day, I'm running a business. I have to deal with this issue and the safety of my employees and it's bad," Rattray said. "I have no practical resource. None," he said. "Nobody will help me."

Rattray said he had just finished a fruitless meeting with police and the MLCC to talk about area safety issues when a woman was stabbed and seriously injured on Main Street near the Woodbine Hotel on Wednesday.

The incident was just one of a number of violent altercations that have taken place outside low-rent bars in the downtown recently. The hotel's owner, Don Mathews, was reported as saying Friday the two women involved were not patrons. He could not be reached for comment.

Const. Jason Michalyshen said Friday public drunkenness plays a large role in the nature of the calls police receive either from or surrounding beverage rooms downtown.

"I can't say it's every time, but we know there are numerous occasions we attend where alcohol may play a role in decisions where unfortunate circumstances occur," he said.

Rattray said he understands area bars are businesses simply getting away with what they can under the terms of their liquor licences, but someone has to take responsibility for what's happening.

"Whose benefit does it serve to serve people giant cans of beer at 9 a.m.?" Rattray wondered.

"The bar owner's not responsible. The MLCC's not responsible," and police give off a sense of "overwhelming fatigue" as they clean up the mess, Rattray said.

Bob Brown, whose real estate company owns the Great Western Building next door to the Woodbine Hotel, shares Rattray's views.

Given that the doorway to his building is just a metre from the Woodbine's, he said many drunks simply pass out in his front foyer and that drug trafficking, open liquor and public urination is rampant.

"The people who have an interest in the neighbourhood are tired of it," Brown said.

He described the ownership of the hotel next door and similar establishments as "inconsiderate" to the concerns of others in the area.

"All they are are beverage rooms with a licence to sell as much beer as they can," he said.

He said he thinks the MLCC's espoused concerns about responsible consumption of alcohol ring hollow given that showing a profit at the end of the year is likely the company's real bottom line.

"Their mandate is to sell liquor, not to clean up streets," Brown said.

Brown and Rattray each believe that until something's done about the bars, downtown Winnipeg can't thrive and people's safety is at risk.

"Whether perceived or not, people don't want to come into our neighbourhood. We're tired of it," he said.

"The MLCC gives us lip service and it's not good enough."

Gary Birshtein, president of the Garrick Hotel, said, however, he feels his bar is "the safest place downtown."

Birshtein said a combination of proper training, a close relationship with the MLCC and an older clientele consisting of about 80 per cent repeat clients that bar staff know means he has few problems.

"It's not exactly the crowd that's looking for trouble," he said.

"We're partially in business to sell alcohol for the MLCC, but also to do so in a controlled environment," Birshtein said. The Garrick has a random visit from a liquor inspector at least once a week, he added.

Winston Yee, the MLCC's director of licensing and inspections, said under the provincial Liquor Control Act, a bar owner can face sanctions -- from warnings to being stripped of their licence to serve booze -- if they're found contributing to issues of disorderly conduct outside their businesses.

By law, bars are also prohibited from serving intoxicated people or over-serving them as well, Yee said.

The MLCC has taken steps to address surrounding "social issues" associated with drinking.

He said it has been working with the police and the Downtown BIZ to assess the problems and seek solutions. As one example, about two years ago, BIZ patrol members were given the authority to detain intoxicated people. The MLCC also elevates the number of inspections it does on bars that repeatedly get complaints, Yee said.

"These are issues that are long term -- it's not that they pop up one day and are gone the next day."



February violence

Feb. 25 - a 28-year-old woman is stabbed in the chest by another woman just outside the Woodbine Hotel at 466 Main Street. The stabbing takes place in broad daylight. A 46-year-old woman is charged with aggravated assault.

Feb. 18 - A 43-year-old man is beaten senseless and taken to hospital in critical condition - and another woman injured - after a dispute over personal property begins in the Manwin Hotel bar at 655 Main Street and spills outside. Two men, aged 37 and 21, remain in custody charged with aggravated assault.

Feb. 6 - Two men are attacked and wounded by a man outside the Northern Hotel beverage room at 826 Main St. A 24-year-old man is charged with aggravated assault. Police find him in possession of a large kitchen knife when they arrest him.