Josh Matlow is proposing a pilot program that would allow public drinking in parks and on beaches from May to October
A Toronto councillor is urging the city to allow people to drink beer and wine in parks this summer.
Ward 12 councillor Josh Matlow plans to table a motion at an infrastructure and environment committee meeting on April 28 that recommends a pilot project to allow the consumption of alcoholic beverages lower than 15 per cent alcohol by volume in parks and on beaches with bathroom facilities.
The pilot would run from May 21 to October 31. During that time, drinking beer, cider and wine in parks and on beaches would be permitted between 11 am and 9 pm.
In a letter to the infrastructure and environment committee, Matlow says the move would give people who can’t afford drinks at a restaurant or do not have outdoor spaces at home a safe option to drink outside during the pandemic.
“As we approach the second summer of the pandemic, public health officials recognize the reality that, especially after a year in isolation, people need to socialize,” he writes. “It is up to us as policy makers to create environments where those connections with friends and family can be made in the safest way possible way.”
He also notes that allowing public drinking doesn’t mean people will drink to excess, and loosening rules would allow enforcement officials to focus attention on offences such as littering, excessive noise and public urination.
“Those who behave irresponsibly are not concerned with existing policies,” Matlow adds. “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.”
This has to change. We don’t want people congregating indoors for a drink during a pandemic. Many live in apartments without a balcony. Those who behave badly in parks, do it regardless of by-laws. Let’s allow grown ups to enjoy a drink together, safely & responsibly, outdoors. https://t.co/0ISzR14PlS— Josh Matlow (@JoshMatlow) April 10, 2021
Matlow also writes that he has heard stories of bylaw inspectors giving white parkgoers a pass on public drinking while issuing tickets to Black people. Toronto does not keep race-based stats on tickets issued for bylaw offences such as drinking in parks.
His letter cites New York Police Department data from 2020 that found 48 per cent of 1,250 criminal summonses issued for public drinking went to Black people. Forty-three percent were issued to Hispanics and only seven per cent went to white New Yorkers.
Public drinking in Toronto can result in a $300 fine. Last summer, the city of Toronto issued warnings to residents to “leave the beer, wine and spirits at home if you’re planning a trip to the beach or the park” as the city reopened following the first wave.
While campaigning for re-election in 2018, Mayor John Tory said he was open to reassessing the ban on public drinking in parks.
The provincial Liquor Licence Act also includes $100 fines for people who consume alcohol or have an open container of alcohol anywhere other than a private place or a licensed premise.
Other Canadian cities have loosened the rules around drinking in parks recently.
Quebec City allows drinking in parks if the alcohol is accompanied by a meal. Last June, Vancouver politicians voted to allow public drinking in nine city parks.