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Vancouver reignites crackdown on hookah lounges

City is taking Ahwaz Hookah House to court Jan. 16
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Ahwaz Hookah House has operated for 18 years, according to owner Abbas Abdiannia

The City of Vancouver has elevated its fight to close the city’s hookah lounges, months after issuing warning letters to two establishments.

Ahwaz Hookah House owner Abbas Abdiannia is scheduled to appear in BC Provincial Court on Jan. 16 to face city officials who have deemed him to be breaking city bylaws.

The city's stance indicates that it thinks he is breaking a bylaw by operating a business without a business licence – a licence that Abdiannia is not eligible to get because the city says patrons are “smoking” inside his establishment, at 1322 West Georgia Street, according to a statement from the city to BIV last summer.

BIV reached out to the city this week to ask why the city has escalated the dispute, and was sent a statement saying "the city cannot comment on an ongoing case."

Hookah lounge owners say customers inhale flavoured water vapour through tubes and are not “smoking.”

Their process is to put flavoured molasses, or shisha, in small cups, wrap the cups with punctured tinfoil, top the tinfoil with hot charcoal, and then put the cups on top of stand-alone devices that enable the fruit essence to mix with water vapour when patrons suck on tubes. The owners charge about $35 and provide free tea, which is why these lounges are sometimes called tea houses.

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Mohammadian Abdolhamid (Hamid), who owns the Persian Tea House, at 688 Davie Street, showed BIV some shisha wrapped in perforated tinfoil and topped with a charcoal brick that he had just blowtorched. | Glen Korstrom, BIV

While the city is digging in its heels in its attempt to close these vapour lounges, there are magic mushroom dispensaries across Vancouver openly operating storefronts and selling drugs that remain illegal.

“They’ve taken the next step with [Abdannia,]" Davison North Law lawyer Dean Davison told BIV.

“They've now said he's in breach of a bylaw. He doesn't have a business license, and that’s because they won’t issue him a business license.”

The city last tried to get rid of its hookah lounges in 2015, and used the rationale that there was "smoking" inside.

Mohammadian Abdolhamid (Hamid), who owns the Persian Tea House, at 688 Davie Street, went on a hunger strike and the city relented in its push to close his business.

Davison’s records show that the city issued Abdiannia a ticket on Nov. 15, which was a “summons to a person charged with an offence,” Davison said.

“He’s been charged under the city-licensing section, contrary to Section 3, Subsection 11 of Vancouver city bylaws.”

Curiously, the city cited specific dates for the offence despite the 18-year-old Ahwaz Hookah House not having had a business licence since the city started refusing to give it one in what Abdiannia said he thought was 2009.

The dates in question are between June 27 and Aug. 14.

This was around the time that the city sent warning letters to Abdiannia and to Hamid.

Davison, who is the lawyer for both of those businesses, said that he is not aware of any ticket or summons being issued to Hamid at the Persian Tea House.

The warning letters said that if Hamid or Abdiannia continued to flout city bylaws, they could receive a $500 fine for each day that the infraction takes place.

This would translate into a $24,000 fine for the 48-day period.

Davison said he represented two businesses in Burnaby in 2021, when the City of Burnaby was attempting to close hookah lounges in that suburb, because there was “smoking” inside.

Discussions with Burnaby’s mayor and city council resulted in the city directing staff to draft a bylaw to grandfather in the existing hookah-lounge businesses so they could continue to operate.

That bylaw went into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

“They can't sell their businesses but as long as they're running their businesses, they can stay open,” Davison said of the Burnaby hookah shop owners.

“We would love the City of Vancouver to do the same thing.”

Vancouver’s longest-serving city councillor, Adriane Carr, who has been on council since 2011, told BIV last summer that she believes grandfathering Vancouver hookah shops is a viable solution.

“It does sound reasonable, especially if there is no public harm,” she said.

gkorstrom@biv.com

twitter.com/GlenKorstrom