The complications of enforcing an alcohol ban

Alcohol is banned in Harrington Hall for at least the rest of the semester. (Megan Aiken/AQ)

David Townsend says history shows that prohibitions don’t really work.

“They’re just about impossible to enforce,” he said.

A professor of law and technical advisor to the student disciplinary process at the University of New Brunswick, Townsend has seen it all.

But the alcohol ban at St. Thomas University’s Harrington Hall residence is a different case.

“Some of the religious universities in the United States have no drinking,” he said. “They’re forbidden to drink on campus.

“But it often drives drinking off-campus.”

It’s been just over a week since the announcement of an alcohol ban at Harrington Hall, where students are prohibited from possessing or consuming alcohol until further notice.

Residence manager Clayton Beaton spoke with The Aquinian on Friday and said the ban was issued because the university is concerned certain health and safety issues in the residence could get out of control. According to Larry Batt, dean of students, some of these issues include discharged fire extinguishers, torched paper towel and broken glass throughout the residence.

“I would hate to think we responded too late or not at all to a situation when we could have stepped in before it got to another point,” he said.

“Ultimately, at some point something had to change.”

But the change makes complications for those who have to enforce the ban.

Townsend said the university can’t justify what they’re doing under the liquor act, but they can under their contractual relationship with the students.

“There are residence rules [students] have agreed with,” Townsend said. “All of those contracts have some sort of liquor provision. And because they’re on campus, the university probably has a responsibility if a student gets hurt.”

Students have to sign a residence agreement before moving in. It asks them to follow rules outlined in a residence handbook students are also given
when they move in.

The handbook has an alcohol use in residence section, which says “students are responsible for knowing, understanding and complying with
Provincial laws and University regulations regarding alcohol.”

This means students have already agreed to abide by any regulation made by the university regarding alcohol in residence.

However, Townsend said a residence is considered a “private dwelling” and students have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their rooms.

“That probably wouldn’t apply to the common spaces,” he said. “But they can’t just go searching rooms. If they heard that there’s an alcohol party happening, if they have reason to think something is happening, then they can look into it with campus police.”

Beaton said they decided to enforce the ban using a warning system. A written warning is issued for those caught with alcohol and then fines will be given starting at $10 and escalating “if they offend more than once.”

“We knew that we would be in a state of transition and we didn’t want residents of Harrington Hall being concerned with, ‘What am I supposed to do with alcohol in my room right now?’” he said. “It was something that we knew we’d have to ease going into that time.”

And so long as they’re being respectful and not misbehaving, residents are still allowed to drink off-campus and come back to the dorm.

Townsend said the university has now assumed a “heightened control and responsibility.”  They’ve added another regulation they must make sure is enforced under their watch.

“If you make the rule and not enforce it then you are also exposing your legal responsibilities,” he said.

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