Both the government and the union representing LCBO workers – OPSEU – have touted Ontario’s alcohol retailer as the premier choice for marijuana distribution when the federal government legalizes its recreational use.
But how often do LCBO staff check to make sure they are not selling booze to minors?
“We refused service to 439,000 people, even more, and 88 per cent of those refusals were because of age,” says LCBO spokesperson Keeley Rogers of the retailer’s record last year. But when it comes to checking itself, a CityNews investigation reveals that it needs another shot of reliability.
The LCBO integrity sales program is supposed to ensure that alcohol is only sold to those who’ve reached the age of majority (19 years), by mandating that all customers aged 19-25 are asked for identification. The retailer monitors this through a third party, which sends secret shoppers of that targeted range into its network of 654 stores.
“We have a compliance rate of 91 per cent,” says Rogers.
But a data analysis of its audits reveals that many GTA stores are failing to hit that target. Only 67 per cent of decoys in Toronto North were asked for ID last July, and fewer than half (47 per cent) were carded downtown last September. Many regions – like Timmins, which encompasses 27 stores – only had decoys deployed during two months last year.
“We want to make sure those checks are being made, and I’ll certainly verify what has been and what is occurring,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa said when asked about these missing audits.
Booze buying blunders in 2015
*only 58% of Durham stores checked in January 2015 asked the decoys for ID.
*only 60% of Toronto West stores checked in September 2015 asked the decoys for ID.
*less than half (47%) of the decoys used in September in the Toronto core were asked for ID.
*in North Bay, no decoys were asked for ID in January 2015.
*no decoys were deployed to Durham in September 2015
*no decoys deployed to Timmins in January, February, March, April, May, June, September, October, November 2015
*no decoys were deployed to Barrie in February 2015
*no decoys deployed to North Bay in April or September 2015
(***Data is for period January – November, 2015)
But the data the LCBO collects may not even be valid, according to Brent Barr a marketing and retail expert at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson.
“That data is absolutely useless,” he says.
Most months fewer than 20 decoys ID checks are carried out in each district, and sometimes as few as two or three. Most districts encompass about 25 stores, which means not only are most shifts and employees being missed, but also, many stores.
“The gold standard is 100,” he explains, “You’d need a hundred in each district to be able to effectively know what you’re doing with the mystery shoppers is getting the results that you want. Anything less than that and you’re really, honestly, guessing.”
Rogers says the LCBO doesn’t have to conduct these compliance tests and that these audits are going above and beyond their mandate. She says they are working to having a 100 per cent compliance over the coming months, something the LCBO can only verify if all its stores are checked.