Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


The Impact of Prototypical Classification

Since its classification methodology was not bound to the reality of official Indian legal status, the Board created a positive feedback loop of classification and prototype formation. Fuelled by a situation in which, through official Board policy, only those who embodied the prototype were classified (because classification methods relied on prototypical elements), and the actions of those who were classified were interpreted through the classification (reinforcing prototypical elements of the category), the LCBO allowed convergence to run almost without restriction, ever converging classified people’s actions, and the perceptions of those actions, within systemically defined roles — not simply blurring the lines between the socially constructed understanding of the Indian/Interdicted classification and reality, but erasing them.

By the 1970s, the integration of Indian/Interdiction into everyday racist common sense was so pervasive that the two were inseparable. As the recognized personification of Indian stereotypes (see Anderson and Robertson 2007: 437), Eleanor Jacobson’s Bended Elbow, a self-published book supposedly exploring the “Indian problem” in Kenora, Ontario, presented “the truth” that “Indians,” like those “interdicted,” were drunkards, misspenders, neglectful of their children, abusive, lacking in self-control, and the wasteful recipients of aid (Jacobson 1975). Jacobson’s text received national attention and was publicly opposed by several parliamentary members and residents of Kenora. As Mark Anderson and Carmen Robertson (2007: 437) note:

Jacobson’s vituperative and hate-filled manifesto… employs nearly every negative stereotype of aboriginals imaginable. Central to its claims are first, that whites (and not aboriginals) have long suffered racial discrimination; second, that indigenous peoples are lazy, no-good drunkards by nature; and third, that they wallow in filth. While she provides no rational evidence to substantiate her claims, the book recapitulates and stresses the most pejorative of the many characteristics of the native qua colonial Other and closely resonates with colonialized press imagery of indigenous peoples.

Bended Elbow nonetheless describes the conduct of the developed Interdicted/Indian, or “drunken Indian” stereotype. Its racist depiction of Indians touches on virtually all of the LCBO’s interdiction criteria — unemployment, poverty, health, neglect of children, misspending of income, overindulgence, recipients of relief, public nuisance, violence, intemperance, and being in need of external control and prohibition. Although many in the city of Kenora spoke out against the racism presented by Jacobson (see Kenora Miner & News 1975), the framing of the local news stories and comments from Kenora’s mayor and policing organizations showed the general affirmation of the “indigenous proclivity for intemperance” in the early 1970s (Anderson and Robertson 2007: 420).

Importantly, the non-LCBO classifications of Indians also relied on prototypical classification. Jacobson did not determine the legal status of the individuals — she simply ascribed status — nor did she investigate lineage as a means of classification. Her “method,” like that of the LCBO, was based on the widely held “Indian” prototype, and was thus necessarily self-reinforcing.

Although factors outside of the LCBO played a large role in this phenomenon, the Board’s policy of not selling permits to anyone who looked like an Indian, and the implementation of surveillance-based technological systems to restrict these individuals from drinking in licenced establishments or purchasing in Board stores, coupled with the dry status of reserves, effectively established the conditions under which “Indian”-looking individuals desirous of liquor were forced either to disguise their cultural appearance or to purchase liquor illegally. Often, this experience led to public consumption of alcohol in marginalized spaces, and the practice of drinking quickly to avoid detection, in addition to an engagement in alcohol substitution or other high-risk drinking behaviours (see Maracle 1993: 44–45). Importantly, it was classification and Board policy that shaped the more deviant, dangerous, and visible drinking behaviours of prohibited populations — which, when observed, reinforced culturally both the category and need to prohibit them, effectively developing the “drunken Indian” category and entrenching the prototype.

<< Canadian Legal Classifications and First Nations       
Interdiction and the “Indian List”
Prototypical Classification
The LCBO and the Classification of Indians
First Nations and Alcohol 1939–75
The Impact of Prototypical Classification
The Impact of the Indian/Interdiction Classification >>