“See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”
— Frédéric Bastiat (1801-50) author, economist and politician, from his essay “The Law”
The recent revelation that sometimes there’s open liquor on those party-on-wheels vehicles that cruise through St. John’s has got to be the worst-kept secret in town.
In fact, it was no secret at all.
What do you think most folks do while they’re riding downtown listening to pounding music and bathing in the glow of pulsating lights? Play Scrabble? Knit afghans? Brush up on their crossword puzzle skills?
The spectacle of party-ride business owners scrambling to defend their companies and pledging to work with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in future was something to see as the stories played out in the media last week.
Truth is, there’s already co-operation between the partymobile people and the police — the buses provide the venues for the on-the-road cocktail parties and the police apparently pretend not to notice.
How many times have you heard of a party bus being pulled over by police? Are the buses wearing invisibility cloaks? Do you think the police have no idea there is often open liquor on board?
Do you think your vehicle would be pulled over if the police suspected your passengers were enjoying alcoholic drinks while you drove them through the city, pointing out the sights?
Let’s remember, we’re talking about companies that openly advertise the fact that they offer wet bars, complimentary ice, beverage holders and various kinds of drink glasses.
They also often have dance poles, too, and let’s face it — do you know anyone who has ever performed a full-on pole dance without first being fortified by a few stiff rum-and-cokes or a half-dozen crantinis?
What’s the problem?
Let’s take the blinders off, folks.
Party rides/coaches/buses — whatever you want to call them without singling out a particular company — have been expanding on the services provided by limousines for years.
Would you begrudge any newly married couple the glass of champagne they might enjoy in a moving vehicle on the way to their wedding reception, as long as neither of them was the driver?
Of course you wouldn’t.
So, what’s wrong with mobile dance parties for adults taking it to the streets as long as the driver isn’t drinking or distracted by the racket and safety is paramount?
Absolutely nothing. I’m all for people having a good time and not drinking and driving.
There’s just one teensy, tiny problem.
The practice is illegal. In Canada, you are simply not allowed to have open liquor in a vehicle.
According to this province’s Liquor Control Act, “A person shall not drive or have the care or control of a motor vehicle as defined in the Highway Traffic Act, whether it is in motion or not, while there is contained in it, (open) alcoholic liquor …”
And as long as this is the law, these companies are sometimes hosting illegal activity — activity which you and I, in our private vehicles, could not reasonably expect to get away with.
Different strokes for different folks
Right now, the police will only pull over a party-on-wheels when there’s a complaint, like the recent one involving underage drinking, even though new rules allow the police to pull over any vehicle, any time, without cause. The fact that it doesn’t pull over partymobiles when there is a reasonable expectation that some law is being broken on board is a double standard.
Now, I’m all for the police investigating complaints of underage teens drinking in party vehicles, and I applaud companies that strictly enforce the legal drinking age.
But if companies want to continue to host adult parties in moving vehicles with alcohol aboard, then the rules about open liquor in moving vehicles are going to have to change. Otherwise, what these businesses are doing is not completely legitimate and they should be fined for breaking the rules, the same as everybody else.
There’s nothing wrong with providing a service that ensures that people who are drinking get a safe drive home or a ride to their destination.
But there is something wrong when the law is enforced for one group of people and not another.
You shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.