Last weekend, paramedics rushed to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex in Ottawa to treat an 18-year-old woman who was severely intoxicated at a birthday party for the PM’s son, Ben Harper. The woman, who is reportedly not related to the Harper family, was taken to a local hospital by Ottawa EMS.
The party at 24 Sussex, however, is hardly the only scenario where someone underage may have had a few drinks too many. We spoke with Cst. Chuck Benoit from the Ottawa Police Service about when to call 9-1-1 when someone is too drunk, and why fake IDs aren’t the biggest problem in the city.
Q: Under what circumstance is it appropriate to call 9-1-1 when someone is drunk?
A: There’s going to be a warning sign that they’re going to hurt themselves or hurt somebody else and 9-1-1 should be called if there is a safety issue. If there’s a thought someone is going to go behind the wheel, that’s an automatic 9-1-1 call if someone is impaired by drugs or alcohol, or even fatigue.
For a person just walking on the street in a public area, if there is a nuisance, safety issues, disturbing the peace, 9-1-1 can be called.
Q: What about someone who is just vomiting on the sidewalk?
A: If they are sick 9-1-1 should be called. The operator will ask for “fire police or ambulance?” They’ll say ambulance, but police and fire will attend if they’re going to be there quicker than the ambulance. It’s for their own safety. You don’t how sick they are or the reasons [why].
Q: If an officer saw someone throwing up on the side of the street, would it be his job to drive that person to the hospital?
A: If they are sick to the point that they’re throwing up, the hospital will be our number one [priority]. The doctors will determine if they take them in or if they send them to a shelter for alcohol to sleep it off. A lot of the times the hospitals are full and they won’t take drunks. They’ll put them back in our custody and we have to put them somewhere. We can’t just leave them on the street.
Q: And what do you do when they are back in your custody?
A: We have picked them up for being impaired in public, creating a disturbance or whatever the matter was. We bring them towards the cellblock. Although our policy is if they are drunk, and it’s a person that’s going to be sick in the cellblock, we usually bring them to the detox centre.
Q: What about drunk tanks?
A: That’s not the politically correct term—it’s an old term. There are detox centres that will take people. They have extra beds where they can sleep it out. But if it’s a person who can flare up into being aggressive, we are the last choice to keep custody of that person.
Q: If a person is throwing up all over the sidewalk, who is responsible for that cleanup?
A: The city is. It’s unfortunate. We’d like to charge a person, but he’s drunk for whatever reason. I haven’t heard of a person being charged for a cleanup.
Q: In Ottawa, where do underage drinkers find their alcohol?
A: A lot of times people steal it from home because parents leave the liquor in open cabinets. You’re supposed to trust your kids, but a lot of times that’s where they’ll grab the contents. And if they can’t get it there, they’ll either call friends if they have quick access from their parents or they know where they can buy it at certain houses. The kids are pretty well resourced for locations.
Q: Do a lot of under aged people use fake IDs?
A: I think borrowed ID is the biggest one. They’re borrowed from people that look like each other and they take their chances with the bouncer. I haven’t heard it being a big issue from LCBO.
Q: Are 18-year-olds going to Quebec to buy liquor there, legally, and bringing it back to Ontario, where the legal age is 19?
A: I can’t say I have statistics for you. They are licensed to drive. It’s just across the river so it’s not a big.
Q: It’s not illegal for them to buy beer there at 18, but is it legal for them to bring it back over the border to Ontario?
A: There’s a tax law regarding crossing with alcohol.
Q: So it’s legal for them to buy alcohol in Quebec, but it’s illegal to bring it back over the border without paying the taxes?
A: That’s correct. [We’ll check] if it’s a complaint about a certain person doing that regularly. But we won’t send police to the border of Ontario and Quebec to check vehicles coming in and out.
Q: If police go to a party because an underage person is sick to their stomach from alcohol poisoning, will that person be charged later?
A: It’s a bad choice by the teen, and maybe the parent should be looking into disciplinary action at home. Regardless, every time an officer deals with a youth, it will be reported. If this youth has been on record a certain amount of times, he or she may possibly be charged.
Q: How are police getting the message out about the dangers of drinking and driving?
A: I think the education on drinking and driving is getting a lot better, and there’s more of a push through social media. We show pictures of collisions. We put up statistics of accidents and fatalities caused by alcohol. The young people see the consequences.