Canadian cities are legalizing alcohol in parks. Some celebrate, others fear it’s a slippery slope

Calgary County Gian-Carlo Carra says the idea to legalize drinking in some city parks came directly from local residents.

Numerous “unsolicited” responses to a survey of public parks called on the city to loosen liquor rules and prompted the council to explore the idea, he said. Cross Country Record.

Last summer, a pilot project was launched making it legal to drink wine, beer and spirits at 58 designated picnic spots across Calgary. It was a success, with more than 1,500 table reservations, according to city figures.

“There’s this idea that maybe if we don’t shove these things into dark corners and call them vices and really enjoy them in moderation and incorporate that into a healthy society, we’ll be in better shape collectively,” said Carra, who represents Ward 9 in Calgary.

Calls to relax rules around drinking alcohol in public spaces have grown in recent years, spurred in part by the COVID-19 pandemic that forces people to congregate outdoors.

Calgary expanded its pilot program in May, and other cities mirror its approach to the issue. This spring, Vancouver and Edmonton expanded similar programs launched last year.

All three cities limit alcohol consumption between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. In Vancouver, public beaches and park facilities such as playgrounds and swimming pools are among the no-go areas for people who consume alcohol.

The City of Calgary expanded its drink-in-parks program last month. Visitors will be allowed to drink alcohol at designated picnic areas, like the one pictured, in city parks. (Mike Symington)

Still, critics of the idea say it could lead to inappropriate – and potentially dangerous – behavior, such as alcohol-related violence and vandalism.

Toronto City Council voted last month to ban alcohol consumption in parks, asking staff to investigate the issue further and report back in 2023.

“I have heard many people complaining about things that are happening in our city parks that are abhorrent and cause problems for the community, and some of these things are fueled by the illegal consumption of alcohol,” said said Toronto Ward 3 Councilor Stephen Holyday. in an interview with Verification.

“The way I looked at it is that it seems like a solution that’s looking for a problem.”

Equity issue for those without outdoor space

Proponents say allowing alcohol in public parks is a matter of fairness, especially in Canada’s urban centers where many residents live in small apartments with little or no space to socialize.

“The question really is whether the city is imagined as a place where the vast majority of people have spacious backyards…or whether we realize that in places like Toronto, a lot of people live in tiny apartments and that they may not even have balconies, and so they may need to socialize in parks,” said Mariana Valverde, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto.

But Holyday argues that changing laws to allow drinking in parks will open the door to “something that can create problematic behaviors”, such as partying excessively or disturbing other park users, and that the legitimizing alcohol could make it more difficult for city officials to limit this behavior. .

People watch the late afternoon sun from Riverdale Park East in Toronto in October 2021. Toronto city councilors last month voted against allowing alcohol consumption in parks, asking staff to investigate the matter further. (Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press)

Currently in Toronto, people caught drinking alcohol in parks can be fined.

Existing laws already cover offenses such as vandalism and violence, said Dan Malleck, a professor of health sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., and an expert in drug and drug regulation and interdiction. ‘alcohol.

“There has to be a leap of faith and a recognition that most people are going to be reasonable – and also a recognition that if things go wrong it won’t be catastrophic,” he said.

Holyday acknowledges that people are already drinking in parks, despite regulations prohibiting it, and that few tickets are issued for those who act responsibly.

Choosing when to verbalize means some people benefit from a lack of enforcement while others, such as homeless people, are disproportionately disadvantaged, Valverde warned.

“If I went to a park with my family and we shared a bottle of wine with our picnic, I highly doubt the bylaw officers would come after me.”

Critics say opening the door to drinking in parks could worsen alcohol abuse, as well as alcohol-related violence and vandalism. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Need for alcohol-free spaces

Tim Naimi, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, warned that greater freedom in drinking can make alcohol abuse worse.

While he advocates “keeping things the way they are”, Naimi said he believes more regulation is needed around alcohol access and consumption.

“There are many good public health and safety reasons why these kinds of laws and ordinances exist in the first place, and overriding them should also be done with equal care,” he said.

Naimi said it was important that the public have access to alcohol-free spaces, even for those who like to drink.

Malleck, who is strongly in favor of relaxing rules around drinking in parks, agrees there should be options and said drinking can be limited to designated spaces and parks.

Creating a one-size-fits-all rule is inherently “undemocratic” in an effort to protect a minority who would be negatively affected by alcohol or react in problematic ways, he said.

“What’s going to happen is a lot of resentful people doing things that aren’t necessarily in anyone’s best interest, like drinking in public without regulation and breaking other rules.”

Written by Jason Vermes, with files by Steve Howard and Abby Plener.

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