Confusion abounds as Alberta events scramble for liquor curfew exemption

Business owners and event organizers say new provincial health restrictions – and subsequent Alberta Health exemptions – have led to a "messy" weekend in the province.

On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney reimplemented some pandemic measures after COVID-19 cases shot up in August.

One of those measures was a 10 p.m. alcohol service curfew on licensed establishments.

Saturday morning, word broke that multiple rodeos in rural Alberta had been granted exemptions from that rule. Later in the day, exemptions had been given to 14 more venues.

One business owner involved referred to the situation as "a disaster."

STAMPEDE SERVICE

Events in Ponoka, Airdrie and Cochrane were given a liquor service green light due to, according to an Alberta Health spokesperson, "the (events') importance to the local economy and community."

The three rodeos were all listed as "open-air" gatherings.

Two other events in Innisfail and Benalto posted on social media that they too received exemptions, but Alberta Health says that wasn't the case.

When reached by phone Saturday evening, the mayor of Ponoka told CTV News that he hadn't yet received a formal exemption, but that the stampede would be proceeding as usual because it was a special event and because a curfew would be "impossible" to enforce.

Rick Bonnett believed Friday's rules had "grey area" that was tough to follow.

He also said he had spoken to multiple, unspecified MLAs about the curfew.

It's unclear when the original three exemptions were granted.

PRIDE ORGANIZERS SCRAMBLE

When news of the exemptions reached Calgary Pride organizers, the situation shifted.

Those hosting events at participating venues told CTV News they too believed an exemption was warranted, but hadn't been offered one from the province.

Just before 9 p.m., that changed.

Alberta Health reached out to Pride to grant a late alcohol curfew exemption for Saturday and Sunday at 14 Calgary venues.

CTV News was given a copy of that exemption.

Dickens, Twisted Element, Broken City, The Ship and Anchor, Infiniti Ultra Lounge, Civic Tavern, Pin Bar, Ol' Beautiful Brewery, The Radiant, Pure Pride Entertainment, Bar Patricia, The Backlot, Texas Lounge and The Palace were all included in the ruling signed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Not all of the venues are open in 2021 or hosting events, but organizers said they were included because all 14 had held previous Pride-related gatherings.

SOME VENUES NOT PARTICIPATING

Some venues granted the Pride exemption say they couldn't - or wouldn't - take part in the extended hours.

By the time the exemption came down Saturday night, some say they were unable to host guests later than 11 p.m. on such short notice because they had already called off staff or canceled their entertainment.

Pride organizer Elliot Rae Cormier says other venues couldn't even be reached in time to get the word across.

"We are hopeful that this makes a difference for Sunday, Sept. 5, which is the traditional Calgary Pride Parade day," Cormier wrote to CTV News.

Dickens owner Chris Hewitt said his pub will not be participating in the late night service.

"I had made my position pretty clear that I was frustrated with the other exemptions that had been given out," he said. "When I am then given out an exemption myself, is it really fair to the rest of the industry?"

Hewitt called the original restriction timing disappointing.

"We based a lot of our reopening around this Pride weekend because we've been closed for most of 18 months," he said.

Performers say they'll also feel a financial hit from the choice.

"Pride is our biggest time of the year," Cabaret Calgary's Karla Marx said. "It would be like shutting down retail in December.

"It's either deliberate or it's incompetence. And it's really hard for the queer community to feel this way."