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Toronto
Urban Living

Toronto City Council Puts Off Vote to Legalize Alcohol in Parks For One More Year

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Toronto residents who had their hopes raised about being able to freely drink alcohol in city parks this summer will have to hold onto that hope for one more year.

During Thursday’s Council meeting, Toronto councillors, for the second year in a row, debated a motion to start a pilot project that would legalize drinking alcohol in parks and beaches equipped with bathroom facilities. The motion, brought forward by Councillor Josh Matlow, referenced successful legalization seen in other Canadians cities like Vancouver and Montreal, as well as international cities like Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and London.

The pilot project, however, was met with immense pushback from several councillors who, instead, voted 16-5 to pass an amended motion brought forward by Mayor John Tory requesting further consultations with professionals, stakeholders, and residents on the allowance of alcohol consumption in parks. City staff will report back to Council during the second quarter of 2023 with a list of available options, including necessary by-law amendments.

Matlow tweeted his disproval of the motion amendment, saying, “Toronto City Council, worrying about everything under the sun, is actively working on watering down my motion into something worse than a bad beer.”

Several councillors expressed concerns that allowing alcohol in parks would encourage further drinking, resulting in more nuisances, larger messes, and public health and safety concerns. One councillor, Stephen Holyday, took a strong aim against allowing drinking anywhere outside of licensed establishments or private homes, saying that legalizing alcohol in parks would be “catering to the gratification of the very few” who could drink in a park responsibly and that “they could just as easily wait until they get home.”

The original motion proposed by Matlow specified that alcoholic drinks allowed in parks would have to be 15% ABV or less, that drinking could only occur between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m., and that more garbage and recycling bins would be added to parks and beaches.

Speaking to Council, Tory said that he has no issues with anyone responsibly consuming a beer or glass of wine in Toronto’s parks and feels that the bylaws should ultimately change to reflect this. But knowing that Matlow’s motion did not have the majority support of Council needed to pass, he moved to request further consultations on the matter instead.

“The issue is if we’re going to do this and if we’re going to make any change, which I personally think we could do, and do it responsibly, and do it in a way the vast majority of people could accept, then we have to do it properly and we have to do it with the work having been done and with questions having been answered with a degree of direct public consultation, because there are people who care about this,” Tory said.

In response, Matlow took aim at the continued putting off of a decision, noting that many Torontonians will go another summer without backyards or other outdoor space to safely gather and have a drink in.

“We are way behind the rest of the world,” Matlow said. “We don’t need lots and lots of these studies to determine what the rest of the world has already discovered, which is that responsible adults act responsibly.”

By allowing drinking in parks, Matlow says, officers could focus on problem behaviours that are already ongoing such as littering, excessive noise, and public urination. Mayor Tory, however, noted that just two tickets were handed out last year for public consumption — a point he underscored as justification for the issue not needing to be hurried.

“I would be seized with more of a sense of urgency if there were all kinds of tickets being given out and people were literally going down to police stations because they were found to have one beer in their hands,” Tory said. “When I hear…that there were two tickets given out for this last year, and even in the previous two years I think the numbers were about 60, I say to myself that there’s not a problem here with people being harassed.”

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