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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


The Prohibited List 1929–65

In 1927, before liquor began (in 1934) to be sold at locations other than LCBO stores and the LCBO maintained brewery stores, simple permit cancellation was considered to be all that was necessary to curtail legal sales to “unfit” individuals (LCBO Annual Report 1927–28: 10; LCBO Circular no. 497, 1928). However, the Board soon discovered that this method was ineffective in ensuring that certain individuals were never able to obtain a liquor permit.

The “Prohibited List” was formally developed in 1929 to supplement the Interdiction List because the Board was compelled to track and eliminate from the drinking population individuals who were reportedly receiving state or municipal “relief.” In its 1928–29 Annual Report the Board expressed the opinion that “no one should be permitted to purchase liquor at the expense of the necessities of the home and it is perfectly clear that those who have to seek relief are not in any position to purchase liquor.” It further explained:

“The co-operation of all social workers is earnestly desired by the Board — all can help in making it clear that the abuse of liquor is looked on by the people as a degrading thing — that strict sobriety and clean living is not only essential to business success, but also worth while citizenship” (LCBO Annual Report 1928–29: 7).

In part the Board was responding to social and political pressures concerning the “huge waste” of money being spent on its products (Ross 1936: 7). In a pamphlet dispersed by the Ontario Prohibition Union (OPU), president Roscoe Rodd maintained:

“At a time like this when the channels of trade and commerce seem frozen and unemployment has reached a distressing height, what is the effect of the expenditure of these huge sums of money, upon legitimate business and upon unemployment?… It is a year of ominous international disturbance, it is a year of business depression and wide spread economic distress and suffering…. Is this a time to permit 5135 liquor-selling agencies within this Dominion to abstract annually the great sum of 193 million dollars of our economic life blood?….What a gain if we had committed this waste in the past ten years and these many millions were coursing healthfully through the veins of trade and commerce. What tragedy if this staggering and useless and harmful waste is allowed to continue!” (Rodd 1932: 7, 13).

However, the 1930s also saw a major reorganization of welfare services, and with it new pressures towards regulation. The Ferguson government had centralized welfare administration in 1929, and the distribution of the Ontario Mother’s Allowance, Child Welfare, Old Age Pensions, and Soldier’s Aid, as well as the execution of mental health, adult and juvenile corrections, juvenile courts, handicapped children programs, and houses of refuge fell under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Department of Public Welfare (Little 1998: 83). With this shift Ontario experienced a massive professionalization of social work, initiated in part through a joint project involving the province and the University of Toronto — “to increase both the quantity and quality of professional social workers available for government welfare administration” (ibid.). This time period also saw the implementation of highly invasive investigations into requests for social assistance, in which social workers, in addition to investigating welfare abuses, client sloth, and fraud, “endeavored to ensure that recipients led proper lives” (ibid.: 82, 105).

As Margaret Little (1998: 52) points out, these investigations “would record that the dwelling had ‘no car, no radio, no liquor permit,’ thus assuring OMA [welfare organization] that the family did not spend money on luxury items or engage in immoral activities.” Although the professionalization of social work and the governmental focus on welfare centralization and control would have increased the policing of liquor purchases, evidence suggests that it was social pressure and not a direct request that initiated the development of the prohibited list — although the Board did also inform its vendors that “information relative to the purchase of liquor by relief applicants at any store is to be made available when asked for by the relief officer of your municipality” (LCBO Circular no. 1879, 1937). Administrative surveillance, then, follows the money trail, and sleuth work intensifies greatly when welfare payments are at issue. No amount of taxpayer’s money is too small for politically motivated discipline.

The requirement of eliminating relief recipients from the drinking population presented the LCBO with a new problem. Specifically, the LCBO was obligated for the first time to reach beyond its permit holders and into the general public. In these cases a simple permit cancellation was not an acceptable solution because intemperate actions and the misspending of income had already occurred, and the validity of the LCBO and control laws had already been damaged. For the first time the Board was presented with the dilemma that it acquired lists of identified individuals who had not yet violated its regulations, but whose future drinking habits would discredit liquor control arguments as well as augment temperance discourses.

Initially the Prohibited List contained only the names of relief recipients who had purchased liquor permits, and the LCBO worked in accordance with aid organizations to identify these individuals. The LCBO generated additions to the Prohibited List primarily through the act of list-matching, thus adopting “a deductive analytic logic suggesting that if an individual appears on one list s/he ought or ought not appear on another” — or more “simply the comparisons of lists to note the presence or absence of a particular individual in specified lists” (Gandy 1993: 74). In this case lists of aid recipients, provided by local and provincial aid organizations, were matched against the LCBO’s list of permittees to identify those who were “misspending” their relief allowances. The LCBO explained:

“A large part of the work is done at Head Office. In addition to this, at places where unemployment is marked, on the request of the relief officers or church societies similar service is performed by the local Vendor. The societies and relief officers supply the Vendor with lists of those receiving relief and no sales are made to anyone shown on them” (LCBO Annual Report 1929–30: 13).

Once identified through list-matching, such persons were sent prohibitory orders through registered post; their names were then added to the Prohibited List, where they remained until the Board was informed that they were no longer recipients of relief funds (LCBO Annual Report 1929–30: 8; LCBO Annual Report 1932–33: 9; LCBO Circular no. 1340, 1931).

LCBO prohibition order

Although the LCBO touted the success of its new list in preventing the purchase of alcohol by those “lacking” the financial means, internal list-matching revealed a somewhat different picture:

“The great majority of cases investigated show that applicants for relief are not in possession of permits and again, the great majority of the permits which have been found to have been held by those requiring relief show very light purchases. In such cases the permits are not cancelled, but are held until such time as the charitable or relief organization states that the permittee’s circumstances have so improved that he is in a position to purchase liquor. Where purchases have been unreasonably large the permits are cancelled. In fairness to the large number of people who require relief, it must be stated, however, that those having permits constitute but a small percentage” (LCBO Annual Report 1929–30: 13).

As time progressed the Board’s relationship with aid workers and aid organizations expanded. The 1931–32 Annual Report noted “the usual co-operation” that its Permit Department extended “to institutions, associations and public bodies administering relief, in an endeavor to curtail the consumption of intoxicating liquor by those without means.” The Depression had led to a substantial increase in this work through the past year, the report said, with a “greater number of relief organizations having availed themselves of the services of our Permit Department.” To get relief Toronto applicants were “to obtain a certificate from the Liquor Control Board to the effect that they do not hold a permit, before any relief will be granted.”

At all other liquor stores in the Province, the vendors are instructed to obtain a list from the Clerk of their Municipality of all parties on relief, so that should a person on relief apply for a liquor permit, same would be refused. Lists containing 59,330 names of relief applicants were received from 26 Municipalities and “the permittees concerned [those found to also be on the relief list] were placed on the “Prohibited List” and will remain there until their names are removed from the lists supplied by Municipalities. (LCBO Annual Report 1931–32: 8)

In 1936 the Liquor Control Act was amended to accommodate this change in Board interdiction policy. Section 100 now stated: “The Board may by order signed by the Chief Commissioner or the Deputy Chief Commissioner, prohibit any person from purchasing, having, giving or consuming liquor, including beer and wine, and any such person who contravenes such order shall be guilty of an offence.” The LCBO’s annual reports noted that it had received the names of over 94,500 recipients of relief by the end of 1931, further indicating that of these individuals between one in twenty-five and one in twenty-nine were formally added to the Prohibited List (LCBO Annual Report 1929–31). By 1933 those unemployed or receiving aid had reached over 600,000 (Little 1998: 83). Like those on the Cancelled List, those on the Prohibited List appeared to be integrated into the Interdiction List, without any formal distinction among those who were legally interdicted, had their permits cancelled, or were simply receiving relief. Between 1930 and 1933 the Board processed through list-matching an average of over 47,000 relief applicants, listing an average of just over 2,500 individuals annually (LCBO Annual Reports 1930–33). By 1939 the Board’s policy had shifted slightly, calling for relief organizations to send lists directly to local outlets.

<< 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 >>