St. John’s New Safer Bars Program Will Strengthen Responsibility of Bar Owners to Protect Patrons from Date Rape and Sexual Harassment

"This would be a guide for people in the city that would let them know this bar cares about keeping their customers safe."

Lynn Moore, a lawyer for sexual assault survivors in civil cases, and Sean Ryan, the NLC’s Director of Regulatory Compliance, are working to implement a Safer Bars Program in St. John’s which would address the high rates of date rape happening in the city.

“Date rape has been a problem in our province and city for a long time. I regularly get calls from women and men who have been drugged. They wake up and don’t know exactly what has happened to them and it’s a horrific feeling,” Moore says.

“Up until now the approach to dealing with this incredibly serious problem in our society has been to do nothing. That’s completely unacceptable, we live in a society where there is law and order so we need to protect people from this very serious harm.”

This program will be a variation of the Safer Bars program that was started by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and is already in place in Ontario and other parts of Canada. Every jurisdiction is able to mold the program to fit their needs.

St. John’s Safer Bars program is still in the early stages of development. Moore explained the program would definitely include training for bar staff on the date rape drug and on alcohol as a date rape drug. It would also provide staff with training to recognize dangerous situations and provide assistance.

If someone is feeling threatened they are more likely to approach a woman for help, so a component of Safer Bars programs in other parts of the country is ensuring bars have women bouncers.

Some Safer Bars programs require bars to have a coat check where people can charge their phones. This allows them to stay in contact with friends and means they are able to call an emergency number on their way home, if needed.

Moore said she would also like the St. John’s Safer Bars program to include training on victim blaming and slut shaming, to make sure that people who complete the program understand that perpetrators of sexual assault cause sexual assault, the conduct of a survivor of such a crime is irrelevant.

Moore is hoping that in Newfoundland and Labrador the Safer Bars Program will create a ‘safer bar’ designation that a bar will receive after its staff go through the program.

“There is no way a system can be perfect, it would be a safer bar, not a safe bar. This would be a guide for people in the city that would let them know this bar cares about keeping their customers safe and they have taken steps to ensure their customers are safe,” she explained.

Moore went on to explain that there is a legal incentive for bars to choose to become certified under the Safer Bars program. That incentive is an area of law called commercial host liability. When you induce people to come into your business, you have a responsibility to those people.

Under the Liquor Control Act bars also have a legal responsibility to make sure people don’t over consume. The principal of commercial host liability is that these establishments profit from the sale of a dangerous substance and they therefore have a responsibility to take steps to prevent dangerous things from happening.

There have been cases where people have left a bar intoxicated and driven a car and the bar has been held responsible for damages caused by a motor vehicle accident due to alcohol consumption. Moore believes that it will be easy to convince a judge that liability should also be attached to bar owners for sexual assaults which are perpetrated by patrons on other patrons or by bar staff on patrons.

In the case of the impaired driver, if the bartender had suggested the patron take a cab and called a cab but the patron refused to take the cab the bar would have a strong argument that they took reasonable steps to prevent that person from doing harm.

If a bar does nothing to help prevent date rape from taking place then they bear some of the responsibility for it and they may find themselves having to pay compensation to people for the very traumatic and deeply horrific act of sexual assault.

While Sean Ryan intends to reach out to the George Street Association and invite them to participate in conversations about the Safer Bars program, their input will not decide whether this program moves forward or not.

The NLC issues liquor licenses and has the power to rescind liquor licenses so whether or not the George Street Association decides they want to be a part in this process they may find themselves in a position where they have to take steps to make their bars safer in order to keep their liquor licenses.

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2 Comments

  • Well this is a very positive move forward in achieving safer places for ALL AGES…I really hope the George Street Association will embrace this important training opportunity for their employees. It seems it would bring a better and much needed awareness and sensitivity to the issue of sexual assault and violence in our city and province. CP

  • What about the out of control staff, managers and bouncers that take advantage of tipsy customers? Taking extra money for things (“Hey you didn’t pay for entry” – yet they just did but are too drunk to remember, or “hey you didn’t pay the “20$” coat check”- that’s actually 5$… tricking the tipsy customers into paying more) and physically assaulting (punching, pushing, etc) non-violent customers when they get upset and question it (because they’re not stupid)? Believe it or not, it’s happened more than once. No trust there. How can they keep women safe when they’re breaking the law, too? People have talked about club staff selling them cocaine and such…think that staff member is trying to look out for the safety of the customers coming in and out? Nope. Don’t drink alone. It won’t be that safe anytime soon. More needs to be done. And, as it said in an article by the Telegram recently: “In fact, if you take the U.S. Navy’s advice, you’ll never walk down George Street alone, and if you do visit the area, you’ll be wary of drugs, prostitution and motorcycle gangs.” “As CBC reports, U.S. security agencies warn about violence on George Street and the immediate area and recommend that any American military members in the area “walk in pairs or in small groups for safety reasons.”

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