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Vancouver eatery waiting on judge's decision in whisky seizure case

The owners of a restaurant raided by B.C. liquor inspectors in 2018 want 242 bottles of seized whisky, valued at $40,000, returned
Fets Whisky Kitchen owners Allura and Eric Fergie want 242 bottles of whisky returned. B.C. government inspectors seized them from their Commercial Drive restaurant in 2018. (Photo Fets Whisky Kitchen/Facebook)

Two Vancouver restaurateurs are awaiting a ruling from a B.C. Supreme Court judge they've asked to overturn a government seizure of 242 bottles of whisky, saying inspectors raided their business without a warrant.

Fets Whisky Kitchen owners Eric and Allura Fergie say the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch prejudged their situation and refused to hand over documentation so the couple could fight the seizure of $40,000 worth of single malt whisky, a petition to the court said.

“We want our whisky back and we want justice,” Allura said outside of court Dec. 10, alongside Eric and their two sons.

On Dec. 13, Eric said the case has wrapped up and no timeline has been given for a decision.

"I thought we presented our case very well," he said. 

The inspectors, accompanied by police, raided the Commercial Drive eatery on Jan. 18, 2018. They brought with them a U-Haul van and spent five hours going through bottles of whisky before carting them off in front of customers.

The operation was code-named Operation Malt Barley.

The following June, the branch fined the business $3,000. The Fergies asked for a reconsideration but were denied documentation to fight the situation. Told to use the freedom-of-information system to obtain documents, they received heavily redacted papers.

“We want this over-reaching and overbroad government to show some respect,” Eric said, noting they’d passed 12 years of inspections before Canada’s largest liquor raid in a century.

The couple asserts the branch’s conduct has been abusive from the start. That conduct began with an investigation in 2017.

Fets’ submissions to the judge said the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) alcohol was purchased from a private retailers rather than the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch, which sells such products to the public but not to restaurants.

"All taxes were paid," Eric said. "Everything was done legally."

The submissions said between 2013 and January 2018, Fets openly promoted its affiliation with SMWS and sold its whisky without incident or comment from the branch.

The society is a membership-based service that specializes in rare and exceptional single cask whiskies.

In B.C., licensed bars, restaurants and pubs are required to purchase any liquor through the branch. Although SMWS products are lawfully imported into the province and are available for sale to the public at some private liquor stores, under the government’s regulations, licensees cannot purchase alcohol from private purveyors. SMWS products are not available through the branch.

Eric told Glacier Media it's the government that sends out the purchase orders, brings the alcohol into the province and then sells to licensees.

Allura said the whole thing could have been settled with a conversation rather than through government spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the seizures and legal wrangling.

She said licensees should be allowed to sell to other licensees.

The raid was a result of an anonymous tip the branch received in December 2017 that certain licensees were selling SMWS products. The branch also investigated The Grand Hotel in Nanaimo, and Little Jumbo and The Union Club in Victoria the same day.

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