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

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Purchase Records and Police

As purchase records began finding their way into civil and criminal court proceedings, LCBO policy adapted accordingly (LCBO Circular no. 1744, 1935). In its Manual of Instructions and Regulations (LCBO Handbook 1951: 21), sent out to all of its employees, the LCBO informed vendors:

“Permits must be endorsed in ink at all times. As permits are sometimes required in court cases, it is of the utmost importance that the date of the purchase, correct quantity purchased, store number and the endorser’s initials be clearly and legibly written. Offenders will be severely reprimanded.”

Policing organizations also sought out such records as part of their investigations into crimes of drunkenness and other violations concerning alcohol. Unlike officials acting on behalf of the courts, policing organizations were not required to obtain subpoenas or warrants to gain access to LCBO purchase records. But the police were also not granted unfettered access to all purchase records: the Board required that officers’ requests for access be made with regards to a specific individual. The LCBO explained:

“If inquiries are made by Police Officers regarding purchase orders by certain individuals, this information should be supplied. The purchase orders are to be searched, but, this is done by the Vendor and his staff. Police Officers must not be allowed to go through the purchase orders themselves and thereby obtain information generally regarding other purchasers” (LCBO Handbook 1951: 46).

In the 1940s in response to the multitude of police requests for purchase records, the LCBO developed an internal policy advising its vendors to supply police with only three months’ worth of Purchase Order forms upon request. The Board instructed its vendors that “such information should be made available with respect to all purchases of [alcohol] that are procured on behalf of others by any messenger named by the Officer as well as purchases made by any named resident personally” (LCBO Circular no. 3035, 1940).

The requests for purchase records followed a fairly routine pattern. After receiving a request from police or court representatives for the purchase records of a specific individual or individuals (which often included particular dates of interest), the local vendor would complete a receipt, noting the store number, the name and address of the permittee, and the dates on which the purchases were made. The officer sent to collect this information signed a receipt, and the original purchase forms were also returned after they had served their role as evidence, often along with a report about the result of the investigation. For instance, on February 3, 1956, the Chief Constable of the Windsor city police reported:

“We are returning herewith Purchase Orders, in the name of [name], which were forwarded from your office. [Name] was convicted of keeping liquor for sale and sentenced to two months in the County Gaol” (LCBO Letters from Chief Constables 1942–63).

The forms were also consistently used in cases in which the police or courts needed to re-create the “meanings” behind purchase behaviour. The “single frames” of the purchase form allowed the use of limited fragments in collages and reconstructed narratives woven around them — developing a kind of flip-book of “evidence against the purchaser” (LCBO Handbook 1951: 45).

In addition to police and court requests the Board also developed policy starting in 1937 to deliver purchase records to municipalities and to aid organizations as a means of checking the purchase histories of those receiving financial relief (LCBO Circular no. 1879, 1937).

After 1934 LCBO investigations routinely relied on purchase forms to reconstruct an understanding of permit holders’ purchases. Further, the Board would soon adopt this reconstructive process in its investigations into cancellation and/or interdiction cases, and it retained the purchase records of classified individuals for an extended period in order to use them as “evidence against a purchaser, should a complaint be lodged” (LCBO Handbook 1951: 45). In a representative letter to local liquor store vendors involving the investigation into purchase histories, the LCBO asked the vendors to:

“make an examination of the customers’ purchase orders filled through your store during the period August 1st to September 3rd, 1955, for the purpose of ascertaining if any purchases were made by the under mentioned person: — [name], [address], Permit # [number]. Any purchase orders you may find for the above named, please forward to the [Supervisor of Stores]. If no purchases were made through your store, please advise accordingly” (LCBO 1956).

Until 1951 vendors responded to such requests by searching their Purchase Order forms and sending any discovered forms to head office for analysis. After that time, local vendors were to work directly with police (LCBO Circular no. 4340, 1951). In response to this particular request a vendor in Windsor reported:

“Further to your letter of January 16th. re. customers’ purchase orders please find attached all orders that were found after a thorough search of the records. All orders are in the same name of [name], [address] and cover a period from October 1st to December 31st 1955” (LCBO 1956).


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