No booze in Toronto parks this year, says city council

Park-goers, hide your beer.

Drinking in Toronto parks and beaches will remain illegal this summer, after city council decided Thursday not to go ahead with a pilot project that would have lifted the ban on imbibing outdoors on a trial basis.

But council did leave the door open to legalizing park drinking in the future. They supported a motion by Mayor John Tory to have city staff to study the idea and report back early in the spring of 2023.

“I have no issue with anybody responsibly having a beer or a glass of wine in a park,” said Tory, who said he supported the city bylaw being updated to reflect the reality that many people already drink in parks without a problem.

But the mayor said he had discussed the issue with council members and it was clear the proposal to change the rules this summer, which was brought forward by the Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12, Toronto—St. Paul’s), didn’t have enough votes to pass.

Tory’s motion directed staff to consult the public and review the experience of other jurisdictions. The mayor said he hoped staff would report back early enough to approve any changes to the rules in time for summer 2023.

Matlow had argued that allowing the consumption of alcoholic drinks in parks would give residents who don’t have backyards or balconies a way to socialize without having to gather indoors while COVID-19 remains a threat. His motion from him also made the case that enforcement of the current prohibition is uneven, and can disproportionately punish racialized people.

As it became clear his motion would be voted down, Matlow told council he found its approach to the issue “so frustrating,” and it seemed as though it was looking for “every possible reason not to deal” with an issue that was important to many residents.

“There are people in our city who have backyards who can have family members and friends over for a drink and have a barbecue and catch up on life and be together. But there are so many Torontonians who don’t,” he said.

“They live in buildings where they don’t have outdoor access and they don’t want to be treated like scofflaws every time they get together with a friend at a park and have a beer on a hot summer day.”

But he was unable to sway many of his colleagues, with councilors across the political spectrum raising concerns about public health, disruptions to residents who live near parks, and the city resources required to implement the pilot. They backed Tory’s motion in a vote of 17 to 2.

The pilot would have allowed the consumption of drinks that don’t exceed 15 per cent alcohol by volume in public parks and beaches with bathroom facilities between 11 am and 9 pm It would have run from May 21 to Oct. 31.

Offenses like public intoxication, public urination and excessive noise would have remained on the books, which Matlow and other proponents said have allowed authorities to crack down on disruptive behavior while enabling residents to responsibly enjoy a drink.

This is the second time since the start of the pandemic that council has balked at lifting the ban on park boozing. Matlow advanced a similar motion last spring but a city committee voted to refer it to city staff, effectively killing it.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Reach him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr


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