Drinking in parks

Toronto green lights summer pilot program to allow booze in parks

In a recent decision, the Toronto city council voted in favour of a motion to develop a pilot program that permits personal alcohol consumption in select parks during the upcoming summer season. The only thing left to decide is just where the parks will be located that will include the pilot.

The motion, introduced by city councillor Shelley Carroll, who serves as the chair of the economic and community development committee.

“The past three years have given all of us a greater appreciation of our public spaces,” said Carroll. “This sensible pilot approach recognizes the desire of many in the community to drink responsibly, while respecting that not all parks or neighbourhoods might be optimal locations for such uses.”

The approved motion directs city staff to collaborate with interested city councillors to establish the pilot program within their respective wards. The staff will consult with the councillors and provide a list of parks deemed suitable for the pilot initiative. A report containing the recommended approach and necessary bylaw amendments will be presented to the economic and community development committee on July 6. The proposal will be reviewed by council during its July meeting with an eye to getting the pilot program operational Aug. 5 to Oct. 9, exclusively in parks where the local councillor has opted to participate.

The motion also received support from fellow city councillor Chris Moise, the chair of the board of health.

“It’s a well-known fact that people already drink in parks,” said Moise. “This pilot will provide the City with an opportunity to explore responsible implementation of public alcohol consumption and evaluate any impacts on public health and public safety through a harm reduction approach.”

Furthermore, the Council has requested that the report incorporate advice from the Toronto medical officer of health regarding any harm reduction, treatment, or education programs that should be in place before the pilot’s approval and implementation.

The City’s primary focus continues to be an educational approach to enforcement, aiming to enhance public awareness of Toronto bylaws and ensure compliance. No penalties were issued for drinking in parks last year. Even with the proposed pilot program, existing bylaws regarding the consumption of liquor in parks, enforced by the city, will remain in effect across all parks. Park users will still be required to obtain permits and licenses to sell or serve alcohol in any park. They will not be allowed to consume or possess an open container of alcohol in parks that are not included in the pilot program.

Moreover, park users must adhere to the regulations outlined in the provincial Liquor Licence and Control Act of 2019, which includes provisions concerning public intoxication and underage drinking.

This recent motion builds upon the Council’s 2022 directive for City staff to present options and necessary bylaw amendments to allow alcohol consumption in City parks. City staff will now submit their recommendations to the Economic and Community Development Committee in July.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO