Castro's and The Dakota VS the AGCO

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has the power to act as investigator, prosecutor and judge and to make orders against you while providing no opportunity to be heard and no right of appeal. I should know because it has happened to us.

The purpose of this campaign is to raise funds to launch a Judicial Review aimed at challenging the authority of the AGCO to impose conditions on a liquor license without the licensee having any opportunity to defend themselves and without the licensee having any right-of-appeal.

I am the owner of Castro’s Lounge in the Beaches and co-owner of the Dakota Tavern on Ossington Avenue. The following series of events have led us to this juncture. 

In 2018 my previous business partner at Castro’s Lounge, Anthony Greene, sent a Facebook message to an AGCO compliance officer (“liquor inspector”) comparing the inspector to the character Aunt Lydia from the television show “The Handmaid’s Tale” and himself to Offred.  Although this was meant to be a humorous depiction of the power imbalance which regulated entities frequently feel in dealing with the regulator, it was a poor decision and should never have been sent. What followed was shocking.

As a result, Anthony was arrested and charged and detained in a jail cell until released on bail. The charges were quickly dropped, and the arrest was deemed “without cause”. Despite the dropped charges, the AGCO proceeded to imposed sanctions (in the form of conditions on the liquor license) that banned Anthony, for life, from Castro’s Lounge and prohibited him from having any role in its day-to-day operation. Furthermore, although the AGCO had disingenuously indicated that sanctions were being imposed because of the charges, when the charges were dropped the AGCO all-of-a-sudden indicated the sanctions had nothing to do with the charges. All of these steps were taken by the AGCO relying on a process that denied us any opportunity to be heard or any right of appeal.

After an escalation of the conflict, the details of which are numerous and not really relevant to the issue at hand, the AGCO proposed to revoke Castro’s Lounge’s liquor license. An agreement was eventually reached in which Anthony also had to give up his ownership stake in Castro’s Lounge and was, again, forbidden from ever having any role in the business. He is not even allowed to enter as a customer. This is an establishment that Anthony built-up over sixteen years first as a manager and then as a co-owner. The fact that the charges were dropped, and the arrest was deemed “without cause” fell, as indicated above, on deaf ears. The AGCO was determined to have their pound of flesh.

One would think that the story ends there, but unfortunately it doesn’t. I and Anthony’s wife, Elizabeth, own The Dakota Tavern on Ossington Avenue. When the AGCO found out that Anthony and Elizabeth were married, they decided to ban him from the Dakota Tavern as well. The only reason offered by the AGCO for this order is the Facebook message wherein Anthony compared a liquor license inspector to Aunt Lydia and himself to Ofrred. Again, the ban is “for life” and this is now a condition on the Dakota Tavern’s liquor license. Again, the AGCO proceeded without any opportunity for a defense, even though we indicated that we disagreed with their decision and wished to contest it. We were denied the right of an appeal. The situation is made all the worse when one considers that the AGCO could have taken an approach that did allow for a hearing, but they decided to proceed along a different track that denies any right of appeal.

Here we have a regulatory agency, the AGCO, which is permitted to place conditions on a liquor license without the licensee having opportunity to defend themselves and without any right of appeal of their decision. We contend that in a democracy and a free-society, no agency such as the AGCO should have this power which they feel free to wield and, in our opinion, abuse.

It is our intent to challenge, via Judicial Review, the AGCO’s power to circumvent due process, to deny a person their natural right to defend themselves and to offer no right of appeal of their decisions. We do not believe that the AGCO should have the authority and free-rein to take such hard-lined draconian measures that have such significant effects on people’s lives and livelihoods as well as on the operation of law-abiding businesses. No government agency should have this kind of absolute power in democracy and free-society.

Unfortunately, justice is expensive and through this campaign we are hoping to raise funds to offset the costs of the Judicial Review. Although this case revolves around one individual and two establishments, its outcome will hopefully prevent other establishments from being subjected to this unfair and undemocratic treatment in the future. We will be humbly grateful for any contributions that you may wish to make to this cause.

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Organizer and beneficiary

Stephen Reid
Toronto, ON
Anthony Greene

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