“My agent number was 006. I’m dead serious,” says Chris Girard. “I loved the thrill of going in there and them not knowing I was underage.”
For most teens, a job waiting tables or folding and re-folding cheap sweaters is as good as it gets—but for the high school students employed by the provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, work involves placing a frosty six-pack of Molson Canadian on a liquor store counter and seeing what happens.
Section 78 of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act forbids anyone under 19 from purchasing alcohol, but 78(4) clarifies that the rule doesn’t apply to “a minor who is employed or contracted by a municipal police board, the provincial police force or the general manager to test the compliance of a licensee.” That includes the Minors as Agents Program, a government-sanctioned team of police and teens who work together to enforce the law.
Section 78 of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act
And depending on your point of view, it’s either very cool or very sketchy. Girard was employed by the program from ages 17 to 18, and says he did it for the money and the anecdotes. “I was paid $19 an hour, plus a meal stipend,” he remembers, “and it definitely made for some interesting stories. Once, a suspicious liquor store employee tried to follow me back to the car, and I lost him in a mall.”
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Oh, and the job was also an opportunity to flex some of his drama club skills. “There wasn’t really an acting aspect, but you did have to keep a straight face and stay calm in stressful situations,” says Girard, who is now 24. The no-acting nature of the work is part of what keeps the Minors as Agents Program from being considered entrapment: the teens aren’t allowed to lie. “If they did ask for ID, I would say my wallet was in the car, which it was,” he shares. When that happened, he’d leave to retrieve said wallet and not come back. “And if they asked how old I was, I would tell them, ‘I’m 15,’ and they’d be like... ‘What the heck are you doing here?’”
Girard describes himself as having been a taller-than-average but “not very fashion-forward” teenager—he wore jeans, a T-shirt and running shoes to work. And the program did not use minors who were getting close to the legal age—Girard “retired” nine months before he turned 19. On the job, he would be accompanied by two handlers: one inconspicuously planted in the establishment, one waiting in the car. Whether or not he was successful in purchasing alcohol, the agents would debrief with the seller, and again with the teen. “We had to write reports detailing everything—the time I entered, what I bought, how much it cost, what the person looked like, everything we said and did,” says Girard. One time, he and his team arranged to “hit” eight spots in Whistler... but when the first four all sold to him, they decided to call it a day. (In smaller towns, owners tended to call around and warn other stores once they’ve been caught.) “We were joking that we set Whistler on fire,” he remembers. All in all, it was an easy paycheque.
But from the perspective of a private liquor store—or restaurant—this work is often seen as sinister. The multi-thousand dollars in fines a business can face for selling to a minor can be devastating for a smaller operation. Some have taken the bureau to court to argue the case for entrapment (Girard says he had to testify once, but doesn’t know the outcome). And in some cases, the employer will choose to terminate the offending employee. “There were definitely times where my handlers would follow up with a restaurant and come back saying the server pretty much got fired on the spot,” he says.
Now an ex-minor (aka, an adult) and several years out of the program, Girard feels significantly less thrilled about his past participation in it. “I felt like an agent, I felt cool—but people’s careers were at stake when they sold to me,” he says. “We were both just doing our jobs, but I didn’t rely on that income.” Because the program is perfectly legal, he says he figures the best way to keep folks from being fired is to publicize it. Plus, he adds, the adult agents he worked with always preached transparency. “The Minors as Agents Program is no secret,” says Girard. “And if everyone knows about it, that should work in the government’s favour—the goal is to prevent alcohol sales to minors, right?”
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