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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Assessment and Analysis of Listed Individuals

The LCBO, then, spent a considerable time analyzing individual purchase records and comparing consumption patterns against a standardized understanding of “reasonable” behaviour. In addition to maximum allowances for purchases, vendors also gathered and employed their local knowledge of both individual circumstances and the disposition of the community in their analysis, determining if someone’s drinking had surpassed acceptable levels and was in need of control (LCBO Circular no. 333, 1928, no. 3276, 1943, no. 3833, 1947). At head office, analysis of a different kind was conducted, comparing levels of consumption, reviewing permit sales, and analyzing the information of those interdicted by the Board. The desire to predict who, or what categories of individuals, would engage in acts of intemperance led the LCBO into a complex system of analysis that sought to identify and classify “risky” populations. Externally the LCBO ran list-matching processes with city relief officials and aid organizations and received information from several levels of police; while internally it relied on a system of analysis that included alcohol types, geographical location, interdiction or order type, reason for interdiction, and previous disciplinary action — all to understand and control potentially intemperate drinkers (LCBO Annual Report 1929–30: 10; LCBO Form L-44). An internal communication explained that these matches played a key role in the sorting capabilities of the Board:

“We are now keeping tab on limitation cases so as to have them called up in cases of such persons getting new permits, which tabbing it is hoped will ensure that all such cases [of abuse would be] brought forward promptly” (LCBO Circular no. 1167, 1930; see also no. 837, 1929).

In the 1929–30 Annual Report, the LCBO published an analysis of some of its collected data in regards to classes of liquor, permit cancellations, and the reasons for those cancellations. Specifically, the Board’s interest was in linking particular types of liquor to unacceptable intemperate behaviours in order to exert governance over the drinking public. The analysis showed that permit holders who had purchased wine, beer, and spirits had accounted for the largest number of cancellations: 467, or 35.29 percent (LCBO Annual Report 1929–30: 10). Second came drinkers of both beer and spirits, accounting for 403 cancellations, representing 30.46 percent of the total, while drinkers of spirits, the next highest, denoted a marked falling off — accounting for only 240, or 18.46 percent. In terms of consumption behaviours, overindulgence accounted for the greatest number of cancellations, 499 (37.72 percent), while convictions under the Liquor Control Act came second at 416 (31.44 percent), followed by city relief/unemployment at 123 (9.29 percent). Based on this information the Board chose to focus its attention on the 5.88 percent of drinkers who had a preference for beer and/or wine.

Analysis of Cancellation and Classes of Liquor Purchased 1929-30

The Board’s focus on beer and wine drinkers can be traced to two separate pressures. First, discourses surrounding intemperance constructed the poor and working class as dangerous drinkers and depicted their beverages of choice as beer and cheap wine respectively, thus linking these drinking bodies with specific substances (see Willison 1924; Heron 2005; Hallowell 1972; Foucault 1978: 98). Second, the Board was under political pressure from breweries and Canadian wineries to remove the requirement of liquor permits in order to purchase beer and native (produced in Canada) wines and wanted data to inform its decision (LCBO Annual Report 1929–30: 9–11).

The Board’s further analysis compared the reasons for “cancellations” related to wine, beer, and all types of liquor. The analysis showed higher rates of cancellation for the reasons of “drunkenness,” “fictitious names and addresses,” and “City Relief, Unemployment, etc.” for wine drinkers, while beer drinkers were shown to have higher rates for “convictions,” “prior cancellations,” or as recipients of Prohibitory Orders, as well as “fictitious names and addresses,” and “City Relief, Unemployment, etc.” — seemingly reproducing prejudiced characterizations put forward by moderation and temperance discourses.

Analysis of liquor preferences and cancellations 1929-30

With this information the LCBO also addressed pressures to remove the permit requirement on the purchase of native wine. The Board surmised that “no change [to the permit system] ought to be made” and:

“Unfortunately, there are only too many cases showing that the sales of wines, heavy in alcoholic content, ought to be subject to proper measures of control and the result of excessive drinking of wines, averaging 27% of alcoholic content, are just as disastrous to the drinkers and their families, whether the wine is a native production or not…. In order to give fair effect to the principles of the Liquor Control Act, all beverages, intoxicating within the meaning of the Act (that is having an alcoholic content of more than 4.4) ought to be only purchasable under a permit” (LCBO Annual Report 1929–30: 9–11).

In addition to publicly published data, the LCBO kept detailed private records of its prohibitory orders. Not only did the Board use its second copies of permits as a means of keeping tabs on those added to the Interdiction List, but it also conducted detailed statistical analysis to develop an understanding of listed individuals and to maintain close monitoring of levels and trends. In maintaining its statistical oversight of prohibitory orders, the LCBO’s tabulation technology specifically made visible data based on geographical location, prior cancellations, eight reasons for being on the Interdiction List (intoxication/reckless driving, fictitious names and addresses, “best interests,” being an “Indian” or minor, as well as three separate classifications for those convicted under the Liquor Control Act), in addition to the information collected through liquor permits and investigations (see LCBO Form L-44). Although no documents were found explaining how the information of Form L-44 would be used, the form’s layout and selected categories are telling of what the Board wanted to render visible, measurable, and actionable in terms of its prohibitory order data.

L44 Explained


<< The Interdiction Process
Unequal Application of Interdiction (1953-1975)
Social Sorting and the LCBO

Interdiction List History
The LCBO’s Cancellation List 1927–36

The Prohibited List 1929–65
Preventative Cancellations 1930–75
The Interdiction List (LCBO Action) 1965–75
The Identification of Listed Individuals 1927–75
Assessment and Analysis of Listed Individuals >>