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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


The LCBO and the Classification of Indians

In the case of classification, because the LCBO could not rely on lineage as the determining factor of “Indianness” due to the lengthy process of contacting Indian Affairs to consult the often incomplete and haphazard pre-1951 official lists, it relied upon the “Indian” or “Indian mode of life” prototype as the primary means of classification. In a circular on the Board’s “procedure to be followed” with regard to “Indians,” the l LCBO explained:

In view of the technical difficulty of deciding whether an Indian may come under the prohibitions of the Indian Act, whether he is a non-treaty Indian, or whether he may have become enfranchised and occupying the status of a white man, vendors, permit issuers and all others concerned are instructed to refuse all applications for permits by persons of Indian Blood.” (LCBO Circular no. 526, 1928, emphasis in original)

These instructions regarding Indians constituted the regular message disseminated internally by the LCBO, and were reinforced through annual circulars regarding the issuing of liquor permits, which had a specific section regarding “Indians” that repeated the message, with the addition of supplemental reminders regarding the Board’s position. Between 1927 and 1954 the annual directives regarding Indians were supplemented by over eight specified circulars and also reiterated in employee handbooks.2

If those rejected on this basis pressed their application by arguing that they were not in fact “Indians,” the onus was on the applicant to produce documented evidence in the form of an enfranchisement3 card, signed by either the local Indian agent or the deputy attendant general of Indian Affairs (LCBO Circular no. 526, 1928; LCBO Handbook 1951: 22). The LCBO’s circulars then stated that if an “Indian” permit applicant had such evidence, that person would be dealt with like any other store customer (LCBO Circular no. 526, 1928).

However, these individuals, even with their evidence of “white” (assimilated) status, were not automatically granted access to liquor, as the Board explained to its vendors: “Any person may be refused the privilege of purchasing liquor, if such person is considered by the vendor as being unfit to possess liquor by reason of his financial standing, the probability of his purchasing for resale; or his general behaviour as the result of drinking intoxicants” (LCBO Circular no. 1923, 1937). If any doubt remained in the mind of the vendors as to how to interpret this statement, the circular continued, “Therefore, a person of part-Indian blood, living in, say, an urban community, could be refused for such reason.” Bureaucratic reclassification could not ameliorate the kinds of troubles that First Nations peoples encountered in everyday life, nor could it guarantee any respite from further exclusions and entanglements emanating from other levels of government or civil society.

The LCBO’s enfranchisement card was the key technology used as proof of non-inclusion within the Indian category. Under the regulations of the Indian Act, “card certificates of enfranchisement” were distributed to those “Indians” who by choice, marriage, education, or employment were “ipso facto… enfranchised under this Act” (Indian Act 1876, c.18, s.86). The cards were small, “bluish in colour, with rounded corners,” and they displayed the coat-of-arms and were “signed by the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs.” Vendors were informed that the “only Indians who are entitled to purchase or have permits are those in possession of the usual blue form or letter from the Indian Agent and signed by him, stating that he is no longer an Indian” (LCBO Circular no. 1292, 1931, no. 3863, 1947, no. 1729, 1935). The Board further explained:

The Indian Department advises that an Indian upon enfranchisement is always furnished with a card certificate of enfranchisement, which he usually preserves with care, and should be asked to produce as evidence of enfranchisement. If he cannot produce it, the inference is against him…. An Indian who falsely claimed to be not an Indian occasioned a conviction with a $50 fine of a Native Winery which sold to him, hence native wine licencees will do well to strictly follow these instructions. As such cases may be featured in the press and be seized as an opportunity for criticism of Liquor Control Act administration, vendors and issuers will appreciate the wisdom of the caution here advised. (LCBO Circular no. 1292, 1931)

The LCBO focused upon these cards rather than upon the Indian Affairs formal lists because they were granted to individuals and could be produced upon request in person. Although the spouse and children of a cardholder were considered “white” under the law, cards were only issued to the individuals who had undergone the legal process of enfranchisement. As the Board explained:

Representations have been received by this Board from the Acting Director of Indian Affairs Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources, at Ottawa, respecting the application of the Liquor Control Act and Regulations passed pursuant thereto to persons of non-Indian status but of Indian origin, who have lost Indian status by enfranchisement or marriage. It is pointed out that many of these persons born subsequent to their parents’ enfranchisement cannot legally be supplied with an enfranchisement card. (LCBO Circular no. 3591, 1945)

Further, LCBO policy denied those who were “looked upon by the people of the locality as Indians” and who “for one reason or another are not on the membership lists,” elevating social criteria of “Indianness” above legal status within their assessments (LCBO Circular no. 63, 1927). The result was a rather virulent paradox that “Indians” who had legally become “non-Indians” were nevertheless still prototypical “Indians.”

This approach resulted in cases of parents who had been enfranchised being able to purchase liquor legally, while their children, and subsequent generations, could not. Since these children were already “white” they could not receive enfranchisement cards, and so were suspended between the legal and prototypical boundaries of classification. By choosing this card as its technology of classification, the Board legally limited permit holders of “Indian blood” to those specific individuals who had forfeited their rights and “Indian” identity.4

These imposed instructions and regulations forced LCBO vendors to base classification not on established legal status, but on a socially stereotyped or prototypical concept of “Indian” — relying specifically on “the Indian mode of life,” which now included characteristics of drunkenness, to justify the inclusion of racist elements within the Board’s liquor permit application process (Indian Act 1876, c.18, s.2; LCBO Circular no. 1936, 1937). This action effectively drew validity away from registration or lineage as a depiction of the “Indian” classification, and emphasized the stereotypes and prejudices developed by the conjoined Indian/Interdiction List socio-legal category. This reliance by the LCBO upon prototypical classification as the primary means of identifying Indians acted to expedite the convergence of Indian/Interdiction classification with the experiences of, and developed “knowledge” about, the peoples of the First Nations and others defined as “Indians.”

Unlike all others on the Indian/Interdicted List, First Nations people were not sorted based on negative or intemperate activity, but rather on possession of the now prototypical characteristics of the “Indian race.” As a cautionary tale the LCBO noted within its circulars a court case of 1930 involving an LCBO vendor who was charged for serving an Indian (LCBO Circular no. 1292, 1931). In this case the court ruled that the individual served by an LCBO vendor “was obviously an Indian by appearance” and that since the vendor had “made no effort to inquire into” what the court called “the suspicious circumstances” of the purchaser’s “nationality,” the vendor was charged under the Indian Act (Rex v. Brown). In this case the vendor was convicted and sentenced even though the guilty verdict required evidence showing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of “positive knowledge on the part of the accused as to the nationality of the purchaser.” Within the case no evidence of classification beyond the appearance of the alleged Indian was presented. In his final remarks the court judge did not cite any need for the vendor to consult the federal lists at Indian Affairs or the local Indian agent, but found that an individual’s nearness to the “Indian” prototype was “obviously” enough for racial classification.

<< 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 >>