1 of 2
2 of 2
It would be nice if democracy were just something we did all the time. If it were some sort socio-metabolic thing.
It'd be nice if we didn't have to congratulate ourselves and actually applaud, hands slapping against hands, just for doing it. But these are strange times. And people want to drink in parks.
Last Thursday, July 4, at two rows of fold-out card tables arranged across the sandy hardwood of a basketball court in the Trinity Bellwoods Community Centre, democracy happened. Or something like democracy. It was a show of democracy at least.
Dozens gathered, and were sent to randomly assigned tables, to discuss Trinity Bellwoods Park: what they like about it, its problems and especially the matter of the police apparently cracking down on drinking there.
Councillor Mike Layton, who stage-managed the meeting, stressed that the focus shouldn't necessarily be on the consumption of alcohol, but on resultant problems like "noise and public safety." But his attempts to re-frame the issue fell flat. It was a meeting about public drinking.
Pink flyers delivered to locals beforehand referred to the assembly explicitly as a meeting about "alcohol consumption."
Such issues usually require a bit of finesse, but this one seems pretty simple. People want to drink (an activity often referred to in this meeting as "enjoying an alcoholic beverage") and, given the sorry state of housing in T.O., have few green patches of their own. But those living near the park have to deal with excessive noise, urination and other nuisances.
And this summer, the police, via Operation Green Glasses, have been a bit more vigilant about open alcohol containers and have issued something like 105 drinking tickets (at $125 a pop) and made five arrests in the past month alone. Drinking in public is prohibited by both the Ontario Liquor Licence Act and a city of Toronto bylaw.
After the folks at these tables mulled the issue over for about half an hour, a rep from each micro-committee presented a report.
Proposed solutions ranged from the specific to the holistically vague, including more trash receptacles; more public toilets and later hours for them; a police liaison to enforce something other than the "black-and-white letter of the law"; more nighttime patrols, with "reactive" ticketing of those making noise or fighting, instead of "preventative" ticketing of those just drinking; a bylaw exception for the park; installing a park ranger or warden; individual drinking permits; installing a thicker tree line on Gore Vale to dampen the noise.
"Solutions have to come from the community up," Layton told me after the meeting. "The police will always have a role in maintaining certain laws and ensuring the community is safe. But we also saw today that the community can play that role and they want to play that role. It's a matter of figuring out what that means."
Indeed. What does that mean?
Last week a petition went out via change.org calling on the city to "formally allow the consumption of alcholic beverages in city parks."
That language is a bit off-point. Making drinking in public spaces legal would require the province to amend the Ontario Liquor Licence Act. While this did come up, it may have seemed unlikely, which is probably why there was so much emphasis on an informal solution or a combination of informal solutions.
What people who want to drink in the park seem to really want is for police to single out the "drinking" types and not the "enjoying an alcoholic beverage" types. True, there's no real moral basis for ticketing anyone for drinking (or "enjoying") two beers on a warm day. As Torontonians are forced into smaller apartments, often lacking outdoor space, parks like Trinity Bellwoods (and Trinity Bellwoods especially) have begun to serve the function of communal backyards, and the people who lie in them are (to a certain extent) sensible to treat them as such. But it's odd to think the law should just bend around one person and come to bear in full force on another.
It's unclear why people are supporting something like this, attempting to empower police to do their job reactively and selectively, especially when you could easily skirt most of these issues by not being stupidly noisy and not getting wasted and fighting while people are trying to sleep, or at least by smuggling your tallboy inside an XL Tim Hortons cup and not being so out-and-out blatant about the whole thing.
But these are strange times. And people must really want to drink in parks.