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Keeping the peace with the bar-strip lollipop

Charlayne Thornton-Joe in Victoria on May 1, 2011.

Arnold Lim/The Globe and Mail

A City of Victoria councillor is sweet on the idea of handing out candy suckers to late-night, inebriated revellers after leading a successful Canada Day test run.

Following the traditional fireworks display, which drew an estimated 30,000 people to downtown Victoria, Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, her husband, two City of Victoria staff and Victoria Police Department officers doled out hundreds of red and blue lollipops to loud and aggressive, mostly young, men.

Ms. Thornton-Joe said after the men popped a lolly in their mouths, their nasty energy all but dissolved. "They got calmer after taking the lollipops," she said. "It had an immediate effect."

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Now the third-term municipal politician wants lollipops to be handed out at downtown bars, clubs and taxi stands when carousers make their way home after a night of drinking. She is taking her cue from the United Kingdom, where police officers and bar staff routinely hand out lollipops.

A member of Victoria's Downtown Late Night Task Force, created in 2009 to find a solution to rowdies who sour the downtown with fighting, yelling and public urination, Ms. Thornton-Joe will consult with city staff this week to see if handing out candy can be a regular occurrence. Not all of the 11,000, low-cost lollipops, paid for by Coast Capital Savings, were distributed July 1.

Ms. Thornton-Joe researched how other jurisdictions deal with fighting, vandalism and excessive noise borne from drunken, post-pub men, and sometimes, women.

She learned that when people spill out of drinking establishments in towns in England, Wales and Scotland, they're handed lollies.

The sucker punch works for several reasons, she said. First, it's difficult to yell while sucking a lollipop.

Altercations happen due to verbal exchanges, but with a sucker in the mouth, there's less talk, which results in fewer fights.

The lollipop's sugar hit calms those who've drank too much, she said. And the lolly's pacifier effect can't be denied.

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She also read the 2008 book, Raising The Bar: Preventing Aggression In and Around Bars, Pubs and Clubs.

The book's co-author, Kathryn Graham, has spent more than a decade studying bar-room drinking and violence in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K. As a student in Vancouver in the 1980s, she worked in about 50 bars.

Now a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario and lead researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in London, Ont., Ms. Graham said not many efforts have been shown to be fully effective in lowering the temperature of macho males who get overheated in bars.

"There's not that much that's proven," she said.

What can work is enhanced police work. "In general, we know what a Friday night looks like, so be on top of it," she said.

And instead of simply breaking up fighters, police should fine them, she said.

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Bar staff, who could be doing a better job, should be well trained in how to deal with men under the age of 25 who drink too much, especially since a lot of fights start inside bars, Prof. Graham said.

Edmonton had significant problems created by lubricated oil patch workers and students. The city formed Responsible Hospitality Edmonton, which has used wide-ranging education campaigns with some success, Prof. Graham noted.

Victoria's lollipop campaign runs the risk of being a novelty, whose charm could fizzle out, but it is worth pursuing, she said.

The Victoria Police Department isn't sure it wants its officers to become lolly-cops. The department will review the event, said department spokesman Mike Tucker.

One concern is that police officers are already burdened with about five kilograms of gear on their belts, so there isn't much room or inclination for toting suckers, Mr. Tucker said.

It's preferable to have bars and nightclubs hand out the candy, he said.

Vancouver Police Department spokesman Constable Lindsey Houghton said distributing food products demands study, given the potential for food allergies.

"We would want to have proof that it wouldn't cause adverse reactions," he said. "I'm not sure it's something we'd consider but it's not something we'd rule out if it's shown to work."



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