The loophole in the rules around bar bouncers needs to be addressed, says the professor

Halifax Regional Police continue to investigate the murder of Ryan Sawyer, who was found unresponsive outside the Halifax Alehouse in the early hours of Christmas Eve 2022.  (Dave Laughlin/CBC - photo credit)

Halifax Regional Police continue to investigate the murder of Ryan Sawyer, who was found unresponsive outside the Halifax Alehouse in the early hours of Christmas Eve 2022. (Dave Laughlin/CBC – photo credit)

According to a legal expert, Nova Scotia’s laws do not adequately cover the behavior of bouncers in bars.

Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law in Halifax, says there is “a significant legal loophole” when it comes to internal security rules for bars in the province.

“There are so many unknowns in the area and it’s pretty clearly a gap that I think needs to be addressed.”

The province should reconsider the current laws and whether they go far enough, he says.

According to MacKay, to prevent unnecessarily violent behavior between bouncers and guests, there must be effective regulation that makes training mandatory for staff and provides significant penalties for violators.

Having a standard of practice for bar security would be reassuring for the public, he says, but it would also be reassuring for staff to know where the lines are.

“I think part of the benefit of regulation and education is that it’s clearer to everyone involved where the limits are.”

Halifax Regional Police continue to investigate the death of Ryan Sawyer after officers found him unresponsive outside the Halifax Alehouse in the early hours of December 24.

The 31-year-old’s death was ruled a homicide days later, but Halifax Regional Police have yet to file charges.

A witness who was outside the Halifax Alehouse at the time told CBC News he saw an altercation just before police arrived. The witness filmed a short video at the scene and told CBC News he saw a bouncer put Sawyer in a chokehold.

Halifax Regional Police Spokesman Const. John MacLeod declined to comment on whether Halifax Alehouse employees were involved in an altercation with Sawyer before officers arrived.

CBC News has also contacted the owners of the Halifax Alehouse multiple times and has received no response.

Previous attempt at legislation

It’s not the first time a Halifax bar patron has died. Stephen Cyril Giffin died on Christmas Day 1999 after being beaten by bouncers at a former Halifax bar, Captain Eli’s. Two men charged with manslaughter were acquitted of the charge.

In 2010, the then NDP government introduced the Security and Investigative Services Act. It passed all three readings but was never made law. It would have required internal security personnel to be licensed and trained in a number of areas.

The Private Investigators and Private Guards Act has been in force since 1989, but internal security guards such as doormen are exempt.

Nova Scotia Attorney General Brad Johns declined a request for an interview to discuss the issue. However, a spokesman for Johns said in a statement that he directed staff to review the Security and Investigative Services Act following Sawyer’s death.

The Internal Services department, which is responsible for alcohol, gambling, fuel and tobacco, also declined an interview request.

Independent security services Atlantic

Independent security services Atlantic

Lawrence Conrad, director of a regional security firm, says the situation can be improved with better training.

Conrad says several bars in downtown Halifax asked his company Independent Security Services Atlantic to train their staff after Giffin’s death in 1999.

Conrad has been in the security industry for 30 years providing armored vehicle security and uniformed security services and employs approximately 250 uniformed security guards. Staff also provide training on the use of force and access control.

Security staff in bars should be licensed and trained to the same standards, Conrad says.

“This is a volatile environment,” he told CBC News. “Having someone who isn’t trained in it is probably one of the worst situations you can have.”

No one needs to be hurt or killed when bar staff try to remove them from a venue, Conrad says.

“When things are going sideways, it’s the training that kicks in, and when there is no training then your underlying emotion will take over.”

The same legal mechanisms that regulate his business can be used to standardize the bar industry, he says.

“If this is not addressed, it will happen again. There is no doubt that it will happen again.”



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