Restaurant industry concerned lower blood-alcohol limit could serve up trouble

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Potential changes to Canada’s legal blood-alcohol limit has some in the restaurant industry concerned about business. 

Restaurants Canada, the group that represents the country’s food industry, said the change could mean trouble for any establishment that serves alcohol. 

“We don’t want to see people deterred from eating out and having a glass of wine with dinner,” said Joyce Reynolds, executive vice president. “That would be devastating to our industry.”

In a letter sent to Quebec’s justice minister in May, federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she is considering lowering the legal limit to 50 ml of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, down from the current 80 ml. 

Wilson-Raybould said the change would help stop drunk driving, but Reynolds said that won’t necessarily be the case. 

“We want to see dangerous offenders off the roads as much as anyone else does. We take seriously our role on preventing drunk driving,” she said. “[But] we don’t think reducing the criminal limit … will contribute to reducing the numbers of accidents and fatalities on the road.”

Reynolds continued that when British Columbia implemented the same decrease, alcohol sales in restaurants dropped by over 20 per cent. 

“We want to see those that are causing those accidents off the roads, but what we want to do is to be able to help consumers understand what causes impairment so that they feel comfortable having a glass of wine when they go out for dinner.” 

Conflicting opinions on the change

While the justice minister said thorough research goes into consultations on blood-alcohol limits, several people CBC News spoke to in the ByWard Market aren’t convinced it’s the right decision. 

Some even wanted the legal limit raised instead of lowered. 

Diane and Lydia blood alcohol streeters - august 9 2017

Lydia (left) and Diane (right) say they’re concerned changing the legal limit for alcohol could hurt the restaurant industry. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

“It should be made a bit higher. It’s ridiculous to try and lower it, there has to be another way,” said Diane.

Her friend Lydia agreed. “You’ll go to the restaurants and you won’t be able to order a bottle of wine,” she said.

Others applauded the impending change. 

gideon chang blood alcohol streeter - august 9 2017

Gideon Chang says he supports lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

“With the amount of fatalities that’s been on the road … anything to regulate it I’m all for it,” said Caswell Witingham.

Gideon Chang says it’s up to individuals to regulate their alcohol consumption. 

“People need to be more responsible. You have so many options to get home safe,” he said.

Ontario government reviewing letter

The provincial government told CBC News it has received the letter as well, and will review what changes it could enact. 

“Ontario continues to work with our road safety partners to strengthen protections that can help reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road including working with the federal government,” read a statement.

The federal justice minister hasn’t said when or if the proposal will become legislation.