Canada
New hearing called over Hells Angels' Ontario liquor licence

Hell's Angels members

Credits: AGENCE QMI

RANDY RICHMOND | QMI AGENCY

LONDON, ON -- The province will get another chance to revoke the liquor licence of a Hells Angels member and get a new weapon in its war on crime in the process.

Ontario's highest court has ruled both a government board and a lower court made errors in law when considering whether Londoner Rob Barletta can run his strip club, Famous Flesh Gordon's.

The court fell short of ruling Barletta should lose that licence, but ordered a new hearing in front of Ontario's Licence Appeal Tribunal.

The ruling, released Monday, gives the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) another chance to gain a precedent-setting ruling in its battle to revoke a range of business licences of other outlaw bikers.

The province has been trying to yank Barletta's licence since 2009, based on a section of the Liquor Licence Act about who should or should not hold a bar licence.

The act states that someone can get a licence unless their past or present conduct "affords reasonable ground for belief" that person will not carry on business "in accordance with the law and with integrity and honesty."

Given that the Hells Angels is a criminal organization, there are reasonable grounds a current member and former president won't carry on his business with "integrity and honesty," the ACGO argues.

But its own board ruled in 2011 Barletta's past and present conduct club didn't rule out him running the bar properly.

In fact, there was no proof Barletta was doing anything wrong in the way he operated his bar, despite his membership in the Hells Angels, the board ruled.

The AGCO appealed that ruling to Ontario divisional court, saying the board applied a higher level of proof than the liquor licence's act provision of "reasonable grounds for belief."

The divisional court upheld the board's interpretation.
So the AGCO appealed again to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which heard arguments in February.

At that hearing, the AGCO noted the importance of the case.

A decision against it "will significantly and adversely impact the AGCO's ability to regulate licensees in the public interest and in accordance with the principles of honesty, integrity, and social responsibility," the AGCO argued.

"Furthermore, this interpretation will have wide-ranging negative consequences for other similar legislative provisions governing other licensing and registration schemes within the Province of Ontario."

The appeal court agreed with the AGCO's legal arguments, to a point.

The AGCO had argued that the if the right standard of proof was applied, Barletta's licence should be revoked immediately and asked for an order doing so.

The appeal court rejected that argument, ordering instead the new hearing.

A date for that hearing has not yet been set.

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