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Dal suspends DSU’s liquor license

Bar services restored more than two weeks later

After 16 days, bar services are resuming at all Dalhousie campus bars. Dal announced the end of the dry period on Nov. 1.

On Oct. 16, Dalhousie University revoked the Dalhousie Student Union’s ability to serve alcohol in its Halifax campus bars. Once again, the Grawood and T-Room’s employees were ones to take the hit.  

Tuesday Trivia Nights at the Grawood used to bring in a revenue of $500-600. In an open letter to the DSU, employee Maddie Stinson wrote that the Trivia Night revenue was $12 after the liquor license suspension. “Our bartenders have left shifts with as little as $1.25 in tips.” 

University representatives, in a letter to the DSU, said the decision to suspend the liquor license was made after DSU’s stated intention to disregard the university’s alcohol policy.  

DSU President Aisha Abawajy says she disagrees with that statement. “We’ve clearly never stated that we are, in any way, intending to disregard the university’s alcohol policy.” She also said the DSU had no knowledge of this decision being made, on the behalf of the university, prior to Dal’s letter. 

The DSU’s Oct. 16 press release states:  

“The DSU is complying with the University’s request to cease the service of alcohol on campus, despite the DSU making every effort to follow the University Alcohol Policy and procedures above and beyond what is outlined. (…) The DSU prioritizes student safety and continues to challenge the university to support students of legal drinking age to have access to safe places to consume alcohol if they so choose. The DSU strongly advises Dalhousie University to refrain from making the campus dry as it is unsafe for students.” 

What happened? 

An Oct. 18 memo, sent to students by Ivan Joseph, Vice-Provost of Student Affairs and the Chair of the Dalhousie Alcohol Advisory Committee, expands upon the university’s decision. It says “the DSU issued a letter to the Board of Governors this week that it will no longer follow the University Alcohol Policy.” 

Abawajy says the letter they are referring to is one the DSU sent to the Dalhousie Board of Governors on Oct. 15, in which they notified the university that they would no longer be involved in the “approval process for licensed events,” meaning licensing the service of alcohol during society events at the Grawood and T-Room. In previous years, this duty was held by the Liquor License Designate, traditionally the DSU’s general manager. 

Earlier this summer, the DSU fired general manager Craig Kennedy and director of Licensed Operations Greg Wright. Prior to what the DSU called a “restructuring” of those two positions, Kennedy had been the university’s License Designate, as the alcohol policy states that the DSU’s general manager holds the position. 

The DSU had, previously, not been involved in the licensing approval process. According to their letter, the new License Designate had been instructing DSU employees to work on approvals. This caused confusion between DSU staff and those applying for approvals. 

On Oct. 15, the DSU sent a letter to Dal asking for a more consistent process on the approvals. Abawajy says this conversation has been lasting since the restructuring and their hope was to keep the designate within the DSU. “As soon as [the restructuring] happened, we were in conversations with the university. We let them know that our recommendation to the Alcohol Advisory Committee will be to have [the new designate] be our Director of Operations.” 

Instead, the university appointed Janice Tate, the general manager of the University Club, the Dalhousie-run campus bar on Studley campus, as the new license designate. 

“That was the first breach of the policy, the policy states that it is a DSU position,” says Abawajy.  

The policy states that the License Designate for Halifax campuses is the General Manager of the DSU, it does not state that it is an exclusively DSU position. 

During the week since the announcement, the DSU and Dalhousie administration have been pointing fingers at each other. In an effort to show transparency, the DSU has released all communication with the university.  

At the October 23 DSU council meeting, Abawajy stated that after Ivan Joseph’s Oct. 18 memo, the DSU sent an email to discuss his statement. What they received, she says, was an automated email that he is out of office until Oct. 24.  

In this image: Several people attended the DSU council meeting on Oct. 23.
Several people attended the DSU council meeting on Oct. 23. Photo by Alexandra Sweny

Us versus Them 

The Dalhousie Undergraduate Engineering Society (DUES) released a response to Dalhousie’s decision to suspend the liquor license. It said “we are not confident that the DSU took all the steps they could to avoid these closures.” 

At the Wednesday DSU council meeting, Maddie Stinson read the employees’ open letter to council, shedding light on the treatment the Grawood’s staff has experienced under this year’s executive. 

“Staff members have been asked for free drinks by the exec, to exempt the exec from cover charges, have been sworn at, and continually face issues of poor communication and exemptions of the truth.” (DSU council did not respond to these claims at the meeting.) 

Students and staff, Stinson says, want to see the executive take responsibility for what they have put the Dalhousie community through. “When are you,” she said in an interview, “going to stop, take a look at all of the things you’ve done, and say: ‘maybe we could have done things differently.’”  

During the meeting, Abawajy said that compensation for Grawood and T-Room employees will be discussed with Dalhousie. She also said she is sorry that they cannot provide students and employees with more information, due to Dalhousie’s lack of communication.  

As for alcohol at the Grawood and T-Room — there was no timeline on solving the problem. “It’s definitely not going to get fixed this year,” says Stinson. “We might not serve alcohol for the rest of the year. We have no idea.” 

On Nov. 1, however, Ivan Joseph sent an email to Dal students saying:

“The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) has agreed to a number of important conditions prior to resuming bar services at its licensed venues, including a commitment to follow the University’s Alcohol Policy. The University has advised the DSU that bar services at its licensed establishments (the Grawood and T-Room) can resume effective today, November 1.”

Full bar services for special events are still not restored, but he expects to announce so in the following weeks.

“We again apologize for the disruption to campus bar service over the past two weeks. We are grateful to the DSU for having come to the table and helping us work through this with them,” says Joseph’s email. “Our highest priority and ongoing focus remains the safety and well-being of all members of our campus community.”

Editor’s note: this story was updated online after print publication in order to include Ivan Joseph’s Nov. 1 memo.

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