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culture

The Appearance of Devotion: Babies, Booze, and the LCBO

Recently, the Toronto Sun dressed a 14-year-old in a niqab and sent him to the LCBO. They claimed it taught us something about political correctness and underage drinking, but really all it demonstrated was something ugly about the Sun.

"Children's Amusements. Boy and girl drinking from mugs." City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1895.

Three days after my 19th birthday, my parents proudly announced that they would be taking me to make my very first alcohol purchase. In their minds, I’d gone beyond a single sip of booze just twice in my life: on my actual birthday, which I’d celebrated in Winnipeg with my terribly Catholic boyfriend, who sulked in the corner while I did sugary shots with his cousins; and in Italy when I was 16, asking the bartenders to pick my drinks for me or choosing bottles from the cooler because I liked the labels.

They insisted we buy a bottle that day, and drove me to the closest LCBO. I asked if we could go to a more distant location, one in a nearby town with a better selection. They refused, as they wanted me to celebrate the occasion near home. I started to sweat.

As we walked through the doors, I scanned the staff: two restocking beer at the back and a young woman working the cash. I relaxed a little—no one I knew, or who had served me before. Summer hires, I guessed. I grabbed a bottle of peach schnapps, kept my head down, and power-walked to the cash.

My parents wanted to talk to everyone. The manager came out to congratulate me and a great ceremony was made over looking at my ID (my passport, still stamped from Italy). The two fives I handed over for the bottle were damp with sweat. I smiled weakly. As soon as we got back to the car, I immediately unscrewed the cap and took a deep, saccharine swig. My dad yelled about open containers; I felt I needed it.

* * * * *

The Toronto Sun recently pulled a stunt wherein the paper clothed a 14-year-old boy in the garments of a devout Islamic woman, including a hijab, which covers the hair, and a niqab, a veil over the face that leaves the eyes exposed. (The Sun incorrectly used the term “burka,” which is a type of garb that covers a woman completely, from the top of the head to the ground, often with a net over the eyes.) The youngster was then able to walk into three separate LCBOs and purchase a bottle of sambuca with cash, and was never once asked for identification.

The Sun made this their cover story on Tuesday, framing the situation to make the clothing seem dangerous, mysterious, and prone to being exploited. They took fire at “political correctness” and explained that the situation they devised “reveals a deeply ingrained reluctance on the part of Canadian institutions to challenge cultural practices, even when they conflict with broader societal goals, such as preventing underage drinking.”

The only thing the article actually revealed was a deeply racist discomfort with a particular culture and set of religious practices, and an almost pitiful attempt to generate web traffic. This is an example of invented news, revealing a “crisis” that does not exist in an attempt to further a specific agenda: in this case, distrust of members of a specific group. There has not been a rash of young boys trying to buy alcohol from the LCBO dressed as Muslim women. There was no specific incident the Sun was following up on. Instead of using that front page to cover something important, something with weight and meaning and teeth and heart, they put a little boy in a costume they found frightening and instructed him to buy booze, hoping to make a few more people in the world more scared of those clothes and what they represent—what the Sun thinks they represent—as well.

* * * * *

I was 14 the first time I bought a bottle of alcohol, too—my parents’ earnest desire to mark my 19th birthday notwithstanding—in the small town in Southern Ontario that recently earned the title of the safest municipality in Canada for the third year in a row. My face was not obscured, I carried no fake identification, and I was not prompted by anyone else, not even a goading friend. I took some of the cash I had earned babysitting, walked in, and walked out with a bottle of malt liquor that I hid in my closet and drank lukewarm. I hated it. I rarely bought alcohol after that, preferring to simply pour myself a surreptitious glass of whatever bottle of wine might be lingering in the fridge after my parents had company. I had no idea what I should buy and my random guesses tended to be disgusting. Every now and again, though, I would stroll in and walk out with a bottle.

On one hand, it is utterly ridiculous that no one asked me for ID. I was 5’2”, my weight had barely hit triple digits, and I had no idea how to dress myself or deal with the hair my parents refused to let me cut. My face was round and almost entirely without angles. I looked like a child.

And yet, I can see now how it happened. I was wrapped in a different kind of disguise: one of respectability and privilege. I wasn’t allowed to buy the clothes most teenagers had, and instead mostly wore hand-me-downs from my mother (a business executive) and older cousins—blazers and pleated pants, ankle-length cotton dresses with modest necklines. My blond hair, never permitted near scissors or peroxide, gleamed with a winsome kind of innocence. As I was attending Catholic high school, I would have worn a cross around my neck. My face would have been free from makeup, and as fair as could be. I would have seemed the very definition of wholesomeness, possessing all the things most people associate with pure intentions and good behaviour. I must have looked like a godly young housewife to the small-town cashier, running an errand for my equally moral husband.

"Children's Amusements. Boy drinking from mug." City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1893.

In many ways, the boy the Sun sent out was dressed exactly as I was in those days. We were both cast as mature members of our community, not children or stereotypical rowdy teenagers. We were quiet and demure, and displayed cultural signifiers of religious devotion. We seemed the very opposite of suspicious for these reasons, and so both of our costumes worked. The boy’s success says far less about the usefulness of the niqab as a disguise and more about the general belief that religiously devout, quiet women are probably not getting into any trouble.

While most LCBO employees are positively militant when it comes to carding customers who display even the remotest chance of being underage, the Sun happened to find a disguise that worked. Saying that the effectiveness of such a disguise means that the niqab is dangerous is about as ridiculous as saying that children being allowed to wear any clothes typically worn by adults, or by devout members of any religion, is dangerous. It is declaring any outward sign of devotion, be it a crucifix or a kippah or a hijab, suspect, because it carries with it the implication the wearer is pure of spirit and intention—an implication that can be exploited by thirsty teenagers (or Sun editors on a mission) for other ends.

If anything, it reveals that a greater measure of openness, education, and cultural awareness is needed, perhaps for employees of the LCBO and more definitely for members of Sun Media. We’ve become so uncomfortable asking questions about cultural and religious practices we don’t understand that we simply decry their existence as dangerous and scary, or pretend they don’t exist. A curious and polite question from a cashier about an appropriate, respectful way to handle the situation would have completely defused things. Better training on the best way to handle potentially identity-obscuring modest clothing is certainly called for. Framing a religious or cultural practice as dangerous out of fear and bigotry is not only wrong, it is also terrible journalism.

* * * * *

I’m asked for identification more often now, as a woman pushing 30 in Toronto, than I ever was as a scrawny teenager wearing grim clothing and a crucifix. My hair is dramatically cut, I am covered in tattoos, and my clothes are nearly always in questionable taste. Now in the LCBO, instead of serenely choosing a bottle and silently paying, I am most likely laughing with a group of my friends or listening to loud music from a single earbud. I look like I am up to no good, and, as a consequence, I am carded nearly every single time. I look more like myself now. I’m sure to smile sweetly and thank the cashier each time it happens, and to tell her it made my day.

Comments

  • Ranting Lunatic

    I think the writer here missed the mark on this one. There have been many issues raised about facial coverings recently (for example, having individuals show their faces when swearing an oath as they receive Canadian citizenship). I think that you are more concerned about political correctness, here. You seem to be trying to smooth this over, which indicates that you think there was something supremely racist about taking about how facial coverings can really hinder identification. My perspective – wear what you want – that’s quite accommodating. But, if you want to do something where we need to know who you are to verify your identity, you’re going to have to make some accommodations too.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    The LCBO’s rules exist only to protect them from liability under the Liquor License Act. The LLA exists because we don’t believe minors should have easy access alcohol (although, as the author notes, we don’t try to enforce this in private homes, or outside the country). If ID not being checked at LCBO for those wearing facial coverings is an issue, it is only an issue insofar as it’s actually used by minors to obtain alcohol. Otherwise, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

    Let the Sun provide evidence that use of facial coverings is a leading method used by minors to obtain alcohol, and one that warrants our concern more than others. Otherwise, their concern is as hollow as CATSA’s in confiscating toenail clippers (because they “could” be used to hijack an aircraft), and Ockham’s Razor points to race baiting.

    • http://twitter.com/pertian Ian Pert

      I think it is widely-known that minors are able to get liquor through a variety of means. Sometimes, as Natalie wrote, directly from the LCBO, but more often through older peers or parents. I hate to be defending the Sun, but seriously the fact that they used a boy in a niqab to illustrate the inherent silliness of the current state of affairs is largely beside the point.

      • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

        I agree that the alcohol retail situation in Ontario is ridiculous—here in Boston, I enjoy the much greater variety and lower prices of a more competitive market. But I’ve never heard anyone use the protection of minors as excuse for the continuation of the monopoly, nor cited as a reason for its existence. Historically, the reason is Prohibition; economically, it’s regulatory capture and abuse of market power by the big liquor firms. These are also the best, most fertile areas for arguments for reform.

        But even if there is reform, the LLA is not going to be repealed, and there’s no guarantee corner store owners are going to be more intelligent or sensitive about their legal duty to ID veiled people than the average LCBO employee. The silliness with the boy in the niqab is secondary; it doesn’t help the policy argument against the LCBO/Brewer’s Retail in any notable way. If anything, it damages it by association.

        This, by the way, is how Sun, Fox et al. operate; by preserving at least one tenuous link to a real public issue. Their supporters can indulge in all the nastiness that is heaped on this thin premise, yet still be able to plead good faith in response to criticism. They play devil’s advocate to enable devils, and that doesn’t need the assistance of reasonable people.

  • Foo

    I think the Sun was just involved in helping a minor break liquor laws.

  • http://twitter.com/pertian Ian Pert

    With all due respect to you, Natalie Zed, I think you may have missed the primary point of the Sun’s article. Yes, it is clickbait, and yes using the niqab on a boy for a cheap stunt is kind of creepy. In fact, on the day of, before I actually read the article but was only aware of the cover picture, i tweeted this: “The Toronto Sun is trolling you. Praise them for any incidental good reporting, ignore them in all other cases. Don’t feed the trolls.”(https://twitter.com/pertian/status/227755581862195200) However, upon reading the piece, I found it a clever and effective jab at the LCBO’s monopoly on liquor sales. Logically broken down, it was this: if the LCBO’s main claim to monopoly is keeping booze away from minors, but they can’t keep booze away from minors (hint: it’s not just boys in niqabs who can get booze), then why have a liquor monopoly at all? This is a topic wide open for rational discussion and not a particularly partisan one. Secondly, since the Arab Spring broke out, i have been following a large number of Arabs of different persuasions, from Libya to Egypt to Syria, on Twitter, and have found that this notion of a culturally protected niqab that should remain free from criticism is a strictly North American invention. There are many many Arabs, secular, Muslim and Christian and others, who find the niqab abhorrent and have an immediate visceral reaction upon seeing one. For instance, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya it has been widely-mocked scenario that women running for political office have appeared on their election posters wearing a niqab, and thus completely unrecognizable. It’s not me, or us doing the mocking, it’s Arabs mocking amongst themselves. The fact Canadians look askew at each other when we say something about the niqab, or worry about sounding racist: it’s just plain weird. I do think the Sun has been guilty of race-baiting, and i’m sure there are people in their “base” who are racist and who are not capable of thinking rationally about Islam or the niqab, but I think a lot of the basic criticisms of this piece don’t hold up.

    • Anonymous

      But this wasn’t about the niqab as ‘niqab’, it was about the niqab as fancy dress. Whether the mocking comes from typical Sun Readers or from other Muslims/Arabs/whatever is not the real point, but the Sun succeeded in a very unethical redirection.

  • http://twitter.com/Photocyborg Sam Borgman

    “(The Sun incorrectly used the term “burka,” which is a type of garb that covers a woman completely, from the top of the head to the ground, often with a net over the eyes.)”

    Who says burka covers everything? In fact, according to Quran, face hands and feet can be exposed. Face and complete covering is personal choice and in some Arab regions its simply a regional trend and sometimes an extremist rule. Bottom line: there is no burka or hijab or niqab or anything, that by definition or Islamic rule, must cover everything. Get your facts right.

    • Gumption

      You are missing the point. The hijab, niqab, and burka are all different garments, and the garment used in the Sun’s article was a niqab, not a burka.
      Kthxbai~

  • Anonymous

    The Sun Media rarely makes a move without bigotry buried somewhere in it.

  • Anonymous

    I had no problem buying booze when I was 14 years old either, the first time I got really drunk was with my family at a wedding also at 14. I was almost 6′ tall so pretty big for that age but it was also a different time in society as well, one with fewer strict regulations of children’s behaviour. Though I did drink in my teens and early 20s I stopped drinking because I didn’t much care for it. The only reason I had been drinking was the peer and social pressure to drink, eventually I got over that. In my teens I used to get drunk weekly, nowadays I have at most 3-4 drinks a year, usually less, mostly wine with big family meals.

  • boulevardier423

    Why would any Muslim woman clad as she was, want to buy anything with alcohol in it?
    That makes the Sun’s stunt all the more ill-thought out.

  • Magdalena

    Silly Toronto Sun! Muslims don’t drink alcohol!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Meaford/100003933562178 Mike Meaford

      How does this make the Toronto SUN “silly” ? The undercover investigation worked. The boy was able to buy booze at each of the three stores visited. The well known fact that Muslims don’t drink alcohol makes the SUN investigation all the more significant.

      • Anonymous

        Since when is it the LCBO’s place to enforce religious edicts and prohibitions? If the LCBO denied service to someone because they’re Muslim it would be discrimination and illegal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Meaford/100003933562178 Mike Meaford

    The writer completely misses the point that the Toronto SUN was trying to make.

    The SUN was not trying to highlight an underage drinking problem rather they were highlighting how increasingly we view women in Burka’s as somehow “normal” and are afraid to challenge them lest we be labelled “bigots”.

    If instead of a 14 y/o boy buying booze at the LCBO what if the person in disguise was an armed robber entering a bank? I would bet that every day countless number’s of women in Burkas do enter Banks unchallenged by security, staff or customers. How long before an armed robbery is committed using this disguise?

    Or what about women’s change rooms. What is stopping a male sex-pervert from donning a Burka and entering a female change-room where he is free to look at naked Women and young girls unchallenged?

    Or what about women’s washrooms? What is stopping a rapist disguised in a Burka from entering a women’s washroom and raping the first women that walks into the washroom alone?

    The scenarios are endless. Everyday we are put at risk by the growing army of radical Muslim women wearing Burkas on our streets. If they must wear this garment then they should move to someplace like Saudi Arabia where they would be welcomed. They don’t belong in a free and tolerant country like Canada!

    • Sick and Tired

      I believe Mr. Meaford your idea of freedom and tolerance is off. If we were so tolerant there wouldn’t be bigots such as yourself who say that if someone wants to dress a certain way they should move to a certain country. There is no threat here the only threat would be if someone who doesnt wear niqab and decided to Wear it to get what they wanted but truth be told as a Canadian Muslim – my father is Irish and my mother british decent- these women in general will show their face when needed whether for medication attention or security purposes. So as a true Canadian I urge you to stop reading a newspaper full of b.s. there are many key cultural practices that maybe you and The Sun should assess about Muslims before writing stupidity the next time. I will say it again the niqab and Muslims do not pose a threat to social security only those who wish to exploit it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Meaford/100003933562178 Mike Meaford

        And I suppose it’s OK with you that these Muslims hate dogs also? (see my above post). I just can’t imagine how anyone could hate mans best friend in fact I would go as far as to say that they are not human. Either way they do not belong in MY country and I am getting sick and tired of seeing my fellow Canadians with their heads stuck in the sand.

        • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

          The article fails to mention that many if not most of the insurance fraud is being committed by Tamils.

          Canada gave these ugly buck-tooth vermin refuge and this is how they pay us back. By ripping off each and every driver in Ontario!

          —from http://www.torontosun.com/2012/07/28/ontario-auto-insurance-still-a-vexed-issue#comment-601097898

          I’ve long been sick and tired of racists. Go away. Better yet, seek help.

        • vampchick21

          You disgust me. You are what’s wrong with society. Pull your head out of your ass and join reality.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Meaford/100003933562178 Mike Meaford

    The Toronto SUN is the only media outlet that is warning people about creeping sharia in our country.

    Last week they hi-lighted the fact that most Limo and Taxi drivers will refuse to take dogs into their cabs because they are Muslim and Muslim’s hate dogs (the worst insult that they use is to call someone a dog).

    I’m sure the writer of this article would find that report by the SUN equally “ugly” but the fact is there is something terribly wrong with a society that does not like dogs. In my opinion anyone who doesn’t like dogs doesn’t belong in Canada. Just one of the many reasons why the Muslims who adhere to the tenets of the Quran do not belong in Canada and should never been allowed into a tolerant country like ours in the first place.

    Canada will not be a tolerant country when the day comes that we are overrun by these backward intolerant (the hate gays and prescribe capital punishment for gays).

    If we want to protect our country we must let these people know at every chance that we get that they are not welcome here. We must DEMAND that our traitor politicians slam shut the door to Canada for these backward people who hate everything that we hold dear.

    • Shamaila

      Muslims don’t hate dogs… Some PAKISTANIS do, because in Pakistan most dogs are dangerous, but Islam doesn’t state “hate dogs”- in fact, it states that all animals should be treated kindly.
      Just saying.

  • ATrueCanadian

    All this shows is that people are afraid of offending muslims. Fuck muslims.

    • Gumption

      Um O.K. Fuck you too, bitch.

    • Carl

      Really? “ATrueCanadian” is your username? You idiot, read Canada’s history. Canadians are not ignorant like you and I for one AM a true Canadian. I welcome all peoples because we’re all immigrants at one point or another. So shut your ugly mouth and go dive with the beavers.

  • Sarah

    This isn’t the only time the Toronto Sun has published a b.s. article, racially and politically charged one, like this. And I’m betting it won’t be the last. How DARE they credit themselves as a legitimate news source when so many of their articles are full of bigotry and fear-mongering? They’re just a voice for the extreme right – Harper’s croonies.

  • me

    Like the author, I was able to buy alcohol without being carded at the LCBO or bars at 17. Even on my 19th birthday I wasn’t carded at the LCBO. Now that I am 24 I am asked for ID every time! On a more serious note, the Sun is a joke. They and the LCBO agents who sold alcohol to a “Muslim woman” are ignorant and afraid of the differences in this world. Why do right wing “news” sources keep attacking Muslim people? Please do not read the Sun, they will fill your head with nonsense and bigotry