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Urban Living

Toronto Councillor Wants to Allow Drinking in Parks This Summer

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As warm weather descends upon Toronto, one city councillor is thinking ahead to sweltering days, posing that drinking in parks should be permitted in the city this summer.

In a motion directed to the Infrasture & Environment Committee, Councillor Josh Matlow presents the argument that allowing alcohol to be enjoyed in local parks is not only about convenience, but equity and safety for residents.

“Last summer, Council recognized the importance of being able to enjoy a drink outside by loosening restrictions on patios with the successful CafeTO program, which will be brought back this year. Some residents will choose to enjoy a drink with loved ones in their backyards or on their balconies,” Matlow says.

“However, what about Torontonians that can’t afford a drink in a bar or don’t have an outdoor space in their homes? These residents should not be left with unsafe options such as gathering indoors or, like many over the past year, choosing to drink illegally in parks.”

READ: Month-Long Stay-at-Home Order Coming Into Effect in Ontario

Matlow’s motion seeks to implement a pilot project that would allow beer and wine consumption in public parks between 11 am and 9 pm from Friday, May 21 through to Sunday, October 31, 2021.

To back up his plan, the councillor cites research from an associate professor who studies infectious diseases at McMaster University, and an infectious disease expert from the University of Alberta. These experts say, respectively, that people should be encouraged to use outdoor spaces to reduce the risk of viral transmission, and that specifically easing up on public drinking laws through the summer months would be helpful… and wouldn’t necessarily result in people drinking in excess.

“Public intoxication and underage drinking are already illegal under provincial law. Littering, excessive noise, and public urination are also ticketable offences and are already issued in many parks. In other words, those who behave irresponsibly are not concerned with existing policies,” says Matlow. “This motion seeks to increase and focus enforcement on problem behaviours that are already occurring by freeing up resources while loosening restrictions for responsible adults who wish to responsibly and safely enjoy a beer or glass of wine.”

What’s more, Matlow says the city’s enforcement policies — even in non-pandemic times — are uneven, and bring forth inequitable results.

“Allowing alcohol consumption in parks came to my attention a few years ago when a friend relayed a concerning incident. I personally know someone who was approached by by-law officers while drinking a beer with another person in a park. He was able to talk himself out of a ticket and was just given a warning. He then noticed two groups of people doing the exact same thing given tickets by the same officer. My friend is white and the people receiving tickets were Black. I have heard similar stories in the years since, including during the pandemic,” the councillor shares.

“While Toronto does not keep race-based statistics on the issuance of tickets for drinking in parks, the example from New York City is troubling. In 2020, the New York Police Department issued 1,250 criminal summonses issued for drinking in public. Out of that number 48% went to Black individuals, 43% to Hispanics, and only 7% went to white people.”

To change these public drinking laws, Toronto wouldn’t be forging an evolution. Last year, Vancouver approved drinking in nine parks — with more on the docket for 2021 — while Montreal, London, Paris, and Sydney, residents are also permitted to drink in parks.

And, to make sure all park-drinking participants would remain as, ahem, comfortable as possible amid the new permissions, City Council also seeks to ensure as many parks and beaches as possible have a bathroom facility, including portable toilets, by May 21.

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