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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Preventative Cancellations 1930–75

As we have seen, the consequences of the fragmentation of the present relate to how the meaning erased by such timeless fragments is rebuilt by the mixing of tenses. In the case of the LCBO, the importation of a particular conception of the future played a vital role in this governmental process of temporal adumbration. Here we want to make this disciplinary process more substantial with reference, again, to the concept of a future past, borrowing from the French futur antérieur — the expression of a future about which one may speak definitely because it is already past.

Developing out of a need to extend some single-year cancellations, the LCBO adopted yet another new form of listing and expanded the role of the Interdiction List from a focus on past action to include possible or predicted future cases (LCBO Circular no. 1167, 1930). The LCBO called these additions to the Prohibited List “Preventative Cancellations,” explaining that “preventative notices were [to be] forwarded to persons who were not in possession of permits, but who were considered for various reasons to be unworthy of the permit privilege, said notices having the same effect as a cancellation notice” (LCBO Annual Report 1932–33: 9). In this sense the Prohibited List offered the LCBO a new, expanded tool in restricting sales, one that incorporated a pre-emptive sense of risk avoidance because it offered the means of averting the intemperate action that would discredit the government control system. From the initiation of the Prohibited List until the Board passed its interdiction duties to the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario (LLBO) in 1975, the LCBO would rely on front-loaded data analysis in combination with its other investigations and surveillance capacity to pre-emptively identify and “prevent” cases of permit privilege abuse. As Greg Elmer and Andy Opel (2006: 144) underline: “Pre-emption involves a predetermined inevitable future… through the pre-emptive lens the future becomes an inevitable series of events.” While these authors are referring to the post-9/11 military surveillance complex, the LCBO’s adoption of pre-emptive surveillance must be seen an eerie precursor of today’s (in)tense information environment.

The unique nature of this new approach to controlling liquor consumption required several instances of clarification by the Board. In a 1930 circular the Board explained its classificatory scheme, indicating that the orders were designed and “intended to prevent some unsuitable party obtaining a permit,” so as to avoid what it argued would be the inevitable “warrant collection and forwarding of his permit” (LCBO Circular no. 904, 1930). As the Board further explained to its staff:

“Having been advised [that] some vendors, inspectors and others do not clearly understand this form of cancellation… [in these cases] the formal cancellation notice is issued, with no permit number cited, and with a postscript added, of which the following are samples:

P.S. This notice is sent as a preventative of your exercise of the permit privilege for one year from date, because of non-confidence in your proper observance of the law. Should you nevertheless have procured a current permit, its immediate surrender is demanded to the Director of Permits at this address, or to store #-- for forwarding” (LCBO Circular no. 904, 1930).

Unlike those people placed on the Cancelled List, who could apply for a new permit at the beginning of the new fiscal year, the Board explained that “those persons… placed on [the] Prohibited List will remain there until they are removed from the list” and their orders were revoked (LCBO Annual Report 1930–31: 9).

The risk that these persons posed in theory generated a strategy of suspension expressed in the terms of reinstatement by bureaucratic prerogative (held in the balance by the vague question of “confidence”). Although none of these individuals had actually committed acts that would have led to their classification by either cancelled or legal interdiction disciplinary tools, the Board nonetheless saw fit to add them to the list because, through the understandings developed by its surveillance technologies, their intemperance had become a “predictable” part of a future already over. This approach has a science-fiction feel about it and is akin to the theory of pre-crime (arrest of would-be criminals) imagined by Philip K. Dick (1956) in his book Minority Report, right down to the punch cards containing the prophesies of the “pre-cogs” (mutant humans deployed by the police state) divining the future through fuzzy, oracular visions. Less dramatic, however, is the notion that advanced surveillance has as a core goal the mastery of time. As William Bogard (1996: 34) has observed, the “essential temporal orientation” of surveillance under the sign of simulation is the future-past, a future already mastered — a future already “known” though predictive understandings of future events and filled with the biases of models methods. The LCBO’s data collection and prediction models were biased by their definitions of poverty, race, and class, while the absolute reduction of uncertainty attained though predictive future modelling means that the temporal spectrum of past-present-future could be manipulated based on “the social context of [its] utilization” (Castells 2000: 492), in this case the risks attributed to a biased understanding of populations about whom non-confidence was produced discursively prior to evidence. The listing of these individuals can be understood as the direct result of the Board’s investigations, statistical analysis, and sorting technologies.

As the LCBO embraced greater pre-emptive sorting technology in the mid-1940s a marked increase occurred in the number of individuals eliminated on the grounds that the Board believed this was in “the best interests of all involved” — a catch-all category for making judgments regarding who should be allowed to drink in the province and who should not (LCBO Interdiction List 1929–75; LCBO Annual Reports 1935–51).

Reasons Provided for Interdiction 1932–51

Reasons provided

Until 1944 the rationale of “Best Interests” played either an equal or lesser role in regards to interdicting individuals. From 1944, the year that the Board started incorporating IBM punch cards into its permit system, to 1951, the year that the Board stopped publishing interdiction numbers, the number of individuals eliminated based on the Board’s predictive technologies, or “best interests,” increased by a startling 144 percent, resulting in over two thousand listings annually. In the end the Board made 19,302 listings under the “Best Interests/Board Decision” classification between 1944 and 1951, making it by far the most common means for listing during that period (LCBO Annual Reports 1935–51).

Ultimately the Board used this new Prohibited List to exclude drinkers for a wide variety of reasons; and by 1935 the Prohibited List had established itself as the key tool in controlling liquor sales to those deemed “unfit” and too dangerous to be allowed the permit privilege. In 1935–36, cancellation as a method of control was abandoned altogether in favour of a standardized prohibited listing approach, while between 1937 and 1951, when the Board ceased publishing this information, an average of 53,153 individuals were listed annually (LCBO Annual Reports 1937–51).

New Additions to and Removals from the Interdiction List

New Additions to and Removals from the Interdiction List

Note: These classifications (Cancellations, Prohibitory Orders, Legal Interdictions) were referred to within popular parlance as Interdiction and appeared on the same LCBO Interdiction List without distinction. “Revoked Orders” denotes the number of individuals who had their names removed from the Board’s list by providing proof of their ability to exercise self-control or a change in their relief status. The notable fall in listing between the years of 1931 and 1937 can be attributed to consumer shift from annual liquor permits to Single Purchase permits and the subsequent “invisibility” developed by these permits. Source: LCBO Annual Reports 1927–51.

<< 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 >>