Vancouver bar patrons will soon have to produce identification and have their photograph taken every time they enter clubs or bars connected to an electronic network designed to red-flag troublemakers.
Within the next six months, about 35 bars and clubs in Vancouver are expected to be hooked into the Barwatch system.
Barwatch, a coalition of Vancouver bar and nightclub owners, still has to vote today on whether to make an ID security system mandatory at all its member establishments, but John Teti, chairman of the coalition, said the vote is merely a formality.
“We have full backing from our members,” Teti said Monday.
“It should take about six months to implement the full system.”
Once the system is in place, patrons will be asked to stand in front of a camera to have their picture taken and will then swipe their drivers’ licence, or possibly show some other form of identification, that will automatically give the establishment the patron’s name and age and show if he or she has caused trouble at any other bar on the network.
The establishment will not be able to access the person’s address or criminal record by swiping the licence.
Barwatch is considering several different security system manufacturers for the contract, but Teti said Vancouver-based TreoScope Technologies Inc. has a system with advantages over others.
One thing Teti likes about TreoScope’s “Vigilance” system is that it can be accessed by all the establishments on the network, which means a patron who gets into a fight at one bar along Granville Street will be red-flagged by the time he tries to get into another bar down the street.
TreoScope co-owner Owen Cameron said the system can also be used, for example, to help a victim whose drink has been spiked. The customer could return to the bar several days after the incident and go through photographs of patrons, trying to identify who might have spiked the drink.
“We can start making Vancouver’s nightlife a little safer,” Cameron said.
“We can’t guarantee it’s going to eradicate violence, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.”
Vancouver police are supportive.
There have been more altercations between drunken clubbers since the city extended drinking hours to 4 a.m. and the department has spent nearly $120,000 for extra police officers to work the late-night patrol since the hours were extended July 4, Constable Sarah Bloor said.
Such a system would also mean officers could use a search warrant to retrieve a list of patrons should a crime happen inside a club, Bloor said.
When gunfire erupted at the Loft Six bar this summer, witnesses scattered and police found it very difficult to get information about the fatal shooting.
Bloor said police hope the Liquor Control and Licensing Board will endorse such a tool, so that all bars in the city would be required to use it.
But some patrons and the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association don’t like the idea.
“I would just walk the other way and see how they like it. I wouldn’t put up with that myself,” said Darrell Evans, executive director of the association. “The infrastructure is stacking up and stacking up towards a police state.”
At the Pump Jack Pub on Davie Street, where the Vigilance system was being demonstrated Monday, patrons seemed wary of the device.
“It feels like an unnecessary invasion of privacy,” David Caro said. “It’s going in the direction the United States is going in terms of freedoms being given up for security.”
But Cameron rejected the suggestion that the technology is a privacy invasion along the lines of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
“Most people are willing to give up a bit of anonymity for safety,” he said.
Dean Price, another customer at the Pump Jack, doesn’t have a driver’s licence and wondered if that would automatically ban him from a bar.
“There are a lot of people [in the West End] who don’t have a licence,” Price said. “I don’t like the idea.”
Gabrielle Davis, spokesperson for TreoScope, said a bar owner might let Price in without a licence, or might ask for another piece of identification.
Owners and managers at the establishments can choose to use the system however they choose, Davis said. Even if three reports of fighting pop up on the computer screen when someone’s licence is scanned, a manager or owner can use his or her own discretion and still let that person into the bar.
Teti said the different types of technology being considered for the contract are estimated to cost between $2,000 and $3,000 and would mean extra protection for bar owners.
“It records all people in the room and you’re not anonymous anymore. If you act like a goof, we know who you are,” he said.
He also argued the gadgets are no different than handing over a driver’s licence when people rent cars.
“It’s not a radical thing. We’re always giving up our ID,” Teti said.
Mark Tatchell, deputy general manager of compliance and enforcement for the Liquor Control and Licensing Board, said Barwatch first suggested this type of technology to the solicitor general in February, after the government ordered the industry to improve compliance with ID being checked at the door.
Tatchell said the government is not endorsing a particular product and is only in the preliminary stages of speaking with bar owners about adopting this new type of technology at their clubs.
“We will look at if there is any research out there on the effectiveness of these types of technology before saying yea or nay to changing any regulations,” Tatchell said.
He said bars are welcome to test any of the products on a voluntary basis, and the government will monitor the progress.