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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Interdiction and the “Indian List”

After the 1876 change to the Indian classification, making it illegal to purchase or possess liquor, all “Indians” and all “Non-Treaty Indians” were conceptually considered to be like those on the established Interdiction List and were dealt with accordingly.4 That is, these co-developing legal classifications were treated conceptually by law-makers, enforcers, and liquor establishment owners in the same light and led to identical action, regardless of whether their target was “white” and had been legally found to be abusing liquor, or “Indians” (see LCBO Handbook 1951: 22; LCBO Circular no. 1007, 1930, no. 1923, 1937, no 1936, 1937). In reviewing this history Valverde (1998: 166) notes the developing disparity between categories, arguing that the law’s dependence upon social characteristics led “the category of potentially intoxicated Indian [to be] broader than the category of legally acknowledged Indians.” This was only half the story because, as we’ve seen, interdiction legislation also played an active role in developing identifiable social characteristics of “drunkards.”

The use of liquor to “police racial boundaries and to assert racial and special purity” (Mawani 2000: 27) further forced interdicted and Indian populations into similar marginalized social and cultural spaces (see also Coates 1985: 187). In short, the interplay of legislation created a situation in which the previously independent categories of Indian and interdicted dovetailed with regards to liquor. As a result these conditions had serious repercussions for the perception and conceptualization of First Nations peoples and drinking in Canada. As Valverde (2004: 567–68) notes, interdiction historically denotes an important “cultural slippage between the identity of someone unable to govern her or his drinking and the identity of the Canadian Indian.”

Among the early effects of the social and cultural unification of these classifications was the tendency for the Interdiction List to very quickly become known as the “Indian list” in popular parlance (Heron 2003: 135; Valverde 2004: 567). But perhaps more seriously, Indians became set apart socially along with people convicted of criminal acts involving alcohol abuse, familial neglect, and financial mismanagement. In addition to cultural prejudices, policing and regulatory policy also encouraged a merging of these new stereotypical traits with those already attributed to First Nations populations. Before long being an “Indian” meant that one, by legal definition, had a “particular” susceptibility to, and would likely be “injured by, the use of intoxicants” — as became established by important court cases within Canadian law (Rex v. Martin 1917; Valverde 2003: 195).

By 1876 First Nations peoples’ new classification as Indian/Interdicted had begun to have an impact on their everyday lives as they faced new social situations in which their classification status mediated social action and cultural perceptions. This new legal classification came with a significant amount of restriction due to the powers of the judicial system, albeit the initial adoption of the “drunken Indian” stereotype was gradual (Heron 2003: 135). It was not until the formation of the greatly empowered, and control-focused, provincial liquor control boards, after the period of prohibition had passed, that the convergence of the “Indian” socio-legal classification reached levels in which systemic classification policy and technology acted to reinforce the reality that it had helped to create in the first place.

While the provisions of Ontario’s Liquor Control Act (1927, c.70) ordered liquor to be denied to “any person to whom the sale of intoxicants is prohibited under the provision of any Act of the Dominion of Canada,” the LCBO went further, explaining to employees that the Indian Act added to that prohibition, “insomuch as Sections 135 to 146, inclusive, of the Indian Act, passed by the Dominion Parliament, contain positive provisions against selling or furnishing of liquor to Indians, with severe penalties attached” (LCBO Circular no. 63, 1927). Specifically, this legislation included a prohibition of all individuals within the “Indian,” “Non-Treaty Indian,” and “Interdicted” legal categories (ibid.: s. 44; LCBO Circular no. 63, 1927). In a circular clarifying this point to its vendors, the Board explained:

An Indian is defined by the interpretation section of the Indian Act to mean: (1) any male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a particular band; (2) any child of such person; (3) any woman who is or was lawfully married to such person…. In view of the provisions of this Section [126(a) of the Indian Act], the Board has ruled that the following must not be supplied with liquor: (1) an Indian, unless he has become enfranchised, as provided by Section No. 110 of the Indian Act and is able to present a card from the Department of Indian Affairs certifying to his enfranchisement; (2) any person of part-Indian blood who is reputed to belong to any particular bands, or who follows the Indian way of life; (3) any person who is reputed to belong to an Indian band (LCBO Circular no. 1923, 1937).

To complicate matters the Board employees also had to apply the law to “Non-Treaty Indians” — recognizing that the term was “broad.” An LCBO circular attempting to explain this classification offered an account of an exchange between the Board’s Permit Department and the Department of Indian Affairs. The Permit Department had queried the federal department concerning the case of an Indian man “who had paid taxes in a town for some years and had voted in an election and who was said never to have drawn Government treaty money” — that is, he was apparently not a Status Indian. Indian Affairs replied that the Board more or less had to keep on the outlook for “a few persons” in each Indian band “who for some reason or another are not on the membership list of the band although they were born and brought up on the reserve and are looked upon by the people of the locality as Indians of the band.” The person in question might well be “so situated.”

If he is, I am inclined to think that he would come within the provisions of [section 2 of the Indian Act] as being “reputed to belong to a particular band.” The fact that an Indian pays taxes and votes in the municipality in which he resides does not of itself change his status. On the information before me I can only advise that your correspondent refrain from issuing a liquor permit to this applicant (LCBO Circular no. 526, 1928).

Under these regulations, an individual may not legally be an “Indian” yet the LCBO cited the “follow[ing] the Indian mode of life” provision of the “Non-treaty Indian” classification as a justification for maintaining its selective prohibition related to “Indian-looking” people in the province.

To achieve this selective “kind of prohibition,” the task of identifying and restricting access to “Indians” fell on the shoulders of the LCBO, its vendors, and to a lesser extent the criminal justice system. Locally, LCBO vendors were required to assess and classify liquor permit applicants based on legal and departmental classifications of “Indianness” (LCBO Circular no. 63, 1927). Owing to the difficulty of the task of classifying First Nations persons based on their official legal status, the Board ultimately relied on “prototypical” and not legal signifiers of race (LCBO Circular no. 1292, 1931; Valverde 2003: 199–200). It was through this zealous enforcement that the socially ordering influence of classifications had enough strength to shape the drinking behaviours of Indians within the province.

<< 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 >>