Why this Toronto ER doctor is dead set against extending last call

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Why this Toronto ER doctor is dead set against extending last call

A St. Michael's Hospital researcher is about to pour some cold water on a call to extend the city's bar hours, CBC Toronto has learned.

Dr. Joel Ray is scheduled to deliver a report at a meeting of the city's economic development committee on Friday,

It warns extending bar hours will lead to significantly more violence, particularly among young men, as bar patrons pour into the streets at later hours after spending more time drinking.

"There's intentional injury, where an individual has used their fists as a weapon, or their boot to assault someone," he said Monday. "And there's an elevation to other forms of weapons, from a beer bottle, or a glass, to a plate flying, to separate weapons such as concealed knives."

Ray, who is also an emergency room physician, said unintentional injuries — from falls, for instance — also go up as later hours kick in.

The city's economic development committee has been looking into the possibility of extending bar hours as one way of stimulating the city's night-time economy.

Spencer Sutherland, a nightclub owner who's also on the city's music industry advisory council, said Monday the potential cash infusion to the economy has never been measured here. But in other large cities, he said, the benefits reach billions of dollars a year.

But Ray pointed out Monday that there are also hidden costs to later last calls. He said there would be more emergency services calls, in response to the additional street fights and injuries, and the city would have to foot the bill for those added services.

Sutherland said staggered last calls could actually serve to dilute the degree of drunkenness on the city's streets, because last call would be spread over many more hours.

"There is a dramatic increase in violence around last call, which begs the question:  'Is it the continued service of alcohol that is the problem, or the sudden cessation of it?'" Sutherland told CBC Toronto Monday.

In the report to be presented Friday, Ray points to previous research that indicated "a substantial rise" in trauma cases that resulted when Ontario pushed last call from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m., back in 1996.

He also quotes statistics from a Norwegian study that showed a 16 per cent increase in assault cases for each hour that closing time was extended.

Ray said he's not against bars and nightclubs in the city, but as a doctor who works in emergency rooms, he's seen "hundreds upon hundreds of people who have been admitted either through intoxication in a bar fight, a fall, a head injury, in which there was no other perpetrator involved, and definitely the affects of alcohol on liver and heart and the nervous system."

And if the city does choose to extend the hours that bars can stay open?

ERs will be busier places

"It will make the 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning emergency departments busier places with more victims of violence and more intoxicated individuals as well. 

"That's almost a certainty and I don't have the data to show you that has happened or will happen for Toronto but it's highly likely to be so, as it's been shown elsewhere."