An unprecedented move by SGI is being heralded as a turning point by industry groups and family of drunk driving victims.
The province filed lawsuits Thursday against Industrial Kitchen & Bar and the former owners of Crackers Licensed Cocktail & Dining Room in Saskatoon for allegedly over-serving Catherine McKay, a now-convicted drunk driver.
Both establishments served McKay on Jan. 3, 2016 – right before she got behind the wheel and eventually caused the crash killing the Van de Vorst family just north of Saskatoon.
“Everybody knew when she left the bar, that she shouldn’t be driving,” said Lou Van de Vorst, who lost four family members that night.
Van de Vorst’s son Jordan was driving the van that carried wife Chanda and their two children, Miguire, 2, and Kamryn, 5.
He told 650 CKOM he only learned of the lawsuits Wednesday and is encouraged by SGI’s decision.
“Bars and drinking establishments need to understand they have a certain responsibility in terms of making sure people aren’t drinking too much then getting behind the wheel of a car,” Van de Vorst said.
Van de Vorst acknowledged the challenges that may come with determining how intoxicated someone may be but added in MacKay’s case someone should have called police when she chose to drive.
Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, noted SGI’s decision is precedent-setting for provincial insurers, but has taken place in other situations across Canada.
“It’s a fairly old practice to sue people that have violated the liquor licence act, and sue them for damages,” Murie said.
He noted in cases where suits are brought forward in this manner, proactive change often follows.
“It’s going to make bars more accountable for their service of alcohol, and not over-serve, so these tragedies don’t continue to happen,” he said. “The bars can do a lot more.”
The current owners of Crackers agree. While one lawsuit is against the former owners of the bar, current operator Sean Cunningham said the move is a step to get all managers and staff on the same page.
“We will absolutely have to be far more vigilant with over service,” Cunningham said. “With the new liquor registrations, it has made (that) a lot easier for us to control that.”
Cunningham pointed to the server intervention program – a mandatory online training course that includes how to identify intoxication, refuse or end alcohol services and understand legal responsibilities.
The provincial government announced the mandatory program for servers and management in June 2015.
Jim Bence with the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association said the province was among the last to adopt the server intervention program.
He said SGI’s recent decision will further stress the importance of proper education.
“It sends a very strong message to the industry, that there is some very serious legal ramifications for over service in this province,” he said.
“Once we start to serve people, we have to be very involved with how much we serve, and when to cut off.”
– With files from Chris Vandenbreekel.