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HomeCanadaBreaking:: 7-Eleven's Success in Securing Liquor Licenses Across Ontario

Breaking:: 7-Eleven’s Success in Securing Liquor Licenses Across Ontario


The supermarket chain 7-Eleven sidestepped a formal review by Ontario’s alcohol regulator to gain approval for liquor licenses at nearly all of its locations in the province.

It means 7-Eleven Canada has been given the go-ahead to sell beer, wine and coolers for on-site consumption in more than 50 stores once each location passes a routine inspection by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).

So far, 7-Eleven has only started selling alcohol in two locations, in Leamington and Niagara Falls.

“We are excited to see our licensed restaurant format continue to grow,” said Marc Goodman, 7-Eleven Canada’s vice president and general manager, in a press release announcing the start of beer and wine sales at the Niagara Falls store in mid-May.

“We are happy for our adult guests to enjoy a glass of wine or beer in addition to their lunch or dinner,” Goodman added.

A company spokesperson declined CBC Toronto’s request for an interview. However, 7-Eleven gave permission to collect video and photos at the Niagara Falls location. A visit to the store shows the beer and white wine in locked refrigerators and the red wine in locked cabinets, all labeled “Employee Access Only.”

At this 7-Eleven location in Niagara Falls, Ontario, beer and wine are available for consumption in the dining room, a separate part of the store, pictured here. The alcohol is stored in locked refrigerators marked “Employee Access Only.” (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

The licenses allow 7-Eleven to serve alcoholic beverages with food at tables in the dining area of ​​each store. Customers are not allowed to bring drinks off the premises.

After 7-Eleven applied for the licenses in 2021, the AGCO launched a formal review, called a notice of proposal, for all of the company’s applications.

This is a stricter process than the AGCO goes through for the vast majority of permit applications.

According to the annual report, the AGCO issued notices of proposals for less than one percent of the nearly 7,000 liquor licenses it issued in fiscal year 2021-2022.

A notice of the proposal “basically says the AGCO intends to review and likely deny the application,” said Harrison Jordan, an attorney and founder of Substance Law, a firm that specializes in alcohol and cannabis licensing.

“I was a little surprised that every location received a notice of proposal from the AGCO,” says Jordan, who did not work on the 7-Eleven filings. “It’s usually only when there’s a contentious issue.”

Exterior of 7-Eleven store in Niagara Falls showing two people about to enter.
This 7-Eleven location in Niagara Falls is now a licensed restaurant. The convenience store started selling beer, wine and coolers for in-store consumption with food last month. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

7-Eleven fought the proposal’s notices by taking its case to the provincial License Appeal Tribunal (LAT).

“That essentially took decision-making out of the hands of the AGCO and put it in the hands of the LAT,” Jordan said in an interview.

The tribunal approved 33 licenses for 7-Eleven without a hearing and 22 more after a hearing, according to information provided by the AGCO to Breaking:. a decision is pending from another hearing, at a London site near the University of Western Ontario campus.

The Tribunal has not rejected any applications for 7-Eleven

That means none of 7-Eleven’s 56 permit applications have been denied so far.

Under Ontario liquor laws, obtaining a license is a so-called “qualified right.” This means that the company or individual applying is entitled to a permit, unless there is evidence that this would be contrary to the public interest. The applicant does not have to prove his case; it is up to the opponents to prove otherwise.

The detractors have yet to accomplish that in one of the License Appeal Tribunal hearings for 7-Eleven locations. In fact, only a handful of people who sent the AGCO written objections followed up by speaking at a hearing.

Beer, wine, cider and coolers in refrigerators labeled
Ontario’s License Appeal Tribunal approved 33 liquor licenses for 7-Eleven locations without a hearing, and approved 22 others after hearings. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

The hearing for a 7-Eleven in Toronto, on Bloor Street West near Keele Street, is an example. Although 61 individuals wrote to the AGCO with objections, only one appeared as a witness before the tribunal: the neighborhood councilman, Gord Perks.

“The evidence is that alcohol consumption is by far the most dangerous drug in our society,” Perks said in an interview with Breaking:.

“People are going to use it, but we have to manage how it’s used,” Perks said. “We should not expand alcohol consumption until there are better programs to support people.”

His argument failed to convince the court.

It is not for this Tribunal to examine the wisdom of the government’s policy choices decision in the case, written by juror Geoff Pollock.

“The fact that increased sales or availability of alcohol can cause social harm is not in itself sufficient to deny a person’s qualified right to a liquor license,” Pollock continued, ordering the AGCO to issue a license.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pictured in a brewery, next to a sign reading "Buck-A-Bear."
Prime Minister Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives first pledged during the 2018 election campaign to allow convenience stores in Ontario to sell takeout beer and wine. The government has yet to do that. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

In a statement, the AGCO pointed out that the tribunal did not deny any of 7-Eleven’s requests.

“The LAT has requested that some licenses be issued with terms, such as hours of service. For others, the LAT has determined that no terms be added,” the statement said. .

“All 7-Eleven applications will go through the liquor license process as long as they meet the AGCO’s strict licensing requirements.”

Unfulfilled promise of beer sales at the convenience store

Prime Minister Doug Ford’s government has liberalized some of Ontario’s liquor laws, including allowing restaurants to sell alcohol on food pickup and delivery.

Ford’s Progressive Conservatives promised it in the 2018 election campaign and again in the 2019 budget to enable convenience stores to sell take-out beer and wine.

But that promise remains unfulfilled. The main stumbling block: the province would receive hefty financial fines for scrapping a contract in which the rules for the sale of beer in Ontario until 2025.

The head of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, Dave Bryans, welcomed 7-Eleven’s move to get a license.

“It’s the first step to show citizens and people of Ontario that the world isn’t ending because finally a convenience store with hot food offers you a cold drink if you want to sit in the store,” Bryans said in an interview.

Bryans doubts the model of serving beer and wine for on-site consumption will spread to many other convenience stores.

“Not many people would go to a convenience store on a hot summer day to have a hot dog and a beer, they’d rather take it home,” he said.

He is optimistic that the government will soon open the door to convenience store sales. “Maybe we’ll catch up with the rest of the world,” he said.

In contrast, Perks describes the county’s policy on alcohol access as “really unbalanced.”

“Ontario’s liquor laws are designed to protect the rights of a business owner who wants to sell alcohol. They are not designed to control alcohol consumption in a way where we reduce harm,” Perks said.

“The community, the public, even city governments have almost no right to say, ‘Wait a minute, this could be a problem,'” he said. “That’s why a company like 7-Eleven can just decide, ‘We want liquor licenses,’ and they get them.”

7-Eleven also has licensed restaurants 11 stores in Alberta, including some locations in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray. Unlike the Ontario stores, the Alberta 7-Elevens can also sell beer and wine for takeout and delivery.

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