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03/15/2021

'Asking for trouble': Brampton community leader decries plan to serve alcohol in downtown 7-Eleven

Brampton's spiralling Grace United Church near the city centre rises incongruously next to a 7-Eleven store. It also houses the Regeneration Outreach Community program, which provides a range of services to the homeless and other vulnerable residents.

Many Brampton residents are voicing their opposition against a plan that would see the 7-Eleven serve alcohol.

The international convenience store chain filed 61 applications to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) last month to serve in its Ontario stores. Peel is home to five locations; two are in Brampton. Since the AGCO made the information public, locals have taken to social media to voice their concerns. There are many unanswered questions, such as when the service would be allowed, with 7-Eleven Canada only saying the hours would be ``limited''.

One of the stores, located at 150 Main Street North, right next to Grace United, already deals with issues related to the local homeless community. The place of worship houses the Regeneration Outreach Community program, which is popular among many marginalized members, particularly for its community kitchen, run by the non-profit organization that also offers services to the homeless and other residents in need.

Ted Brown, the organization's chief executive officer, told The Pointer Regeneration works with people who have a range of addictions and mental health issues. If this location is granted a licence, he's concerned people vulnerable to alcoholism will be able to drink with ease and keep themselves intoxicated.

The people Regeneration serves aren't "rule followers,'' he said, and it could lead to an escalation of unwanted behaviour and public drunkenness. "We're asking for more trouble than we already have in the community,'' Brown said. Public intoxication is a big concern and is "not a pretty sight.''

This is a worry some residents echo. Cynthia Rochefort, a long time Brampton resident, says Main Street North has a heavy concentration of homeless individuals. She fears if the service is offered, it will attract an even larger group, and public intoxication will escalate into an issue that will grow beyond the reach of any viable solutions.

Wes Laidman, another resident who lives nearby, shares the same concerns. He says some of the people who frequent the area abide by rules and he doesn't believe they will be a problem. But for others, it won't be the same story.

In a letter to the City Clerk's office a member of 7-Eleven's corporate team said drinks will be available in disposable cups and the consumption of alcohol will only be allowed in-store at "designated consumption areas.''

Brown doesn't believe this rule will hold up. "It is not going to stay in the store. It absolutely will not stay in the store. It will creep out into the parking lot,'' he said, the worry clearly gripping his words.

The letter also states employees handling alcohol will be Smart Serve certified. The program trains people who work in an environment where alcohol is available to serve responsibly. Laidman, who worked in a bar for more than a decade and also has the certification, said this doesn't mean much. "It just means you have your Smart Serve and you can serve alcohol, it doesn't mean you care.''

He questions how the corporation's rules will be enforced to ensure people are not over-served and if addressing public intoxication would fall under the responsibility of City security or Peel Police. "It will be interesting to see how 1/87-Eleven 3/8 is going to set up,'' he said.

Many councillors felt the same way when the issue was discussed at the March 3 City Council meeting. Regional Councillor Paul Vicente said the issue is similar to a casino opening up next to a gamblers anonymous chapter. "It just doesn't make any sense,'' he said in frustration. Brown believes this analogy is a great way to describe the situation because the organization's goal is to assist people with their addiction problems, and making alcohol readily available is simply counterproductive.

Vicente stressed the importance of understanding the context surrounding the proposal. He isn't opposed to having bars or establishments that serve drinks, he said, but it's where they are located that's creating problems. Vicente, along with his fellow ward representative Councillor Rowena Santos, received hundreds of comments on social media and more than 100 emails and letters opposing alcohol service at the Main Street North location. During the meeting, Santos said Peel Police received 436 service calls since 2018 from the location. Many related to trespassing, public intoxication, and mental health assistance.

Council voted to send a letter to the AGCO opposing these applications. Brown sent one of his own, expressing disappointment with the application for a liquor licence. "We vehemently object to this licence. We believe that this will increase the need 1/8for 3/8 police intervention. We believe that there will be an increase in public intoxication which also leads to a number of societal issues,'' Brown wrote.

Objections can be received from the public until March 11. President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Warren Thomas, filed his own objection. In a March 8 news release announcing the decision, Thomas shared concerns about public intoxication and how small businesses in already struggling areas could be impacted.

Raymond Kahnert, a spokesperson with the AGCO, said a number of items have to be submitted to the organization before an application can proceed. This includes a letter of approval highlighting compliance from the local fire, building and health departments.

"A space must be created for the sale, service and consumption of alcohol with food inside the store only, and only when that is once again permitted by Emergency Orders,'' Kahnert said.

In Brown's opinion, there is no way for the application to be altered to fit the community, given other options to buy liquor are not very far away. A Beer Store location is just up the street and grocery stores that sell alcohol aren't far either. He doesn't understand why alcohol has to be served so close to an organization helping vulnerable people.

The planned move stems from the Province's decision to expand alcohol sales to local shops and grocery stores. The announcement, made in April 2019, piggybacks a model of alcohol sales Quebec previously adopted. The PC government led by Premier Doug Ford, signalled interest in the model shortly after the 2018 provincial election.

Concerns have been raised over a possible liquor licence for 7-Eleven's other Brampton location at 140 Father Tobin Road.

City Councillor Doug Whillans said it wasn't the right time to allow this, given the countless number of local restaurants who lost businesses because of the ongoing pandemic. "Restaurants in our own downtown are curbside only and they don't have the luxury of having their patrons come in, sit down, and have a cold beer and that's exactly what this would do if this is going to go through.''

Regional Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon echoed Whillans statements, saying residents in his area are very concerned about alcohol being served to people. The 7-Eleven on 140 Father Tobin, represented by Dhillon, has a gas station. Given alcohol would be served to people in disposable cups and they can drink it in stores, there's a concern about drinking and driving, he said.

Dhillon recalled the deadly accident that took place last summer just up the street near Torbram Road and Countryside Drive. Karolina Ciasullo and her three young daughters were killed after their family vehicle was struck by a driver. Brady Robertson of Caledon has been in custody awaiting trial on four counts of dangerous driving and four counts of impaired driving (drugs) causing death. "The residents that I've spoken to, they're against this,'' Dhillon said. "We don't want to open the doors up to a situation that we saw last summer as well.''

The Pointer reached out to 7-Eleven for comment.

"7-Eleven Canada is excited by the Ontario Government's commitment to extend beer and wine retailing to convenience stores, and we have applied for liquor sales licenses in preparation of that promise becoming a reality. We have an exemplary track record of being a responsible retailer, and are looking forward to offering local Ontario craft beer and wine products to our customers,'' the organization's spokesperson said.