A new pilot project launched May 28 in Edmonton has allowed people to drink alcohol in designated park areas.
The project, which was approved by Edmonton city council, will make it legal for people to drink in 47 designated sites in seven parks in the river valley. The test will run until Oct. 11, after which the city will present a report to council outlining the successes and failures of the test. As a result, picnic sites in parks including Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Whitemud, William Hawrelak, Government House, Victoria, Gold Bar and Rundle parks will become alcohol-friendly. Accordingly, alcohol consumption would be permitted from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Earlier in January, Coun. Jon Dziadyk had suggested for the city look into the option of outdoor drinking, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when people have limited options to socialize while physically distancing.
As a result, a survey was carried out between Feb. 22 and March 7, in which 71% of the 15,550 Edmonton residents surveyed said they support alcohol consumption in park areas.
“For a city of a million people with a short summer, but a beautiful summer, I think this is one way to get out and enjoy parks,” said Dziadyk.
However, Coun. Tim Cartmell, Bev Esslinger and Tony Caterina had voted against the measure. “I’m really torn on this issue,” Esslinger said in a meeting to fellow councillors, while noting the results of the survey would normally prompt her to side with approving it.
According to Esslinger, her brother was killed by a drunk driver. Ten years later, her brother’s son was killed by a drunk driver in a parking lot, and another one of her nephews was killed in a crosswalk with signals. “I would never want another family to go through what we went through,” she added.
Moreover, Esslinger added that doctors with Alberta Health Services say they are no health benefits to allowing alcohol consumption in parks. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, health experts are encouraging activities that don’t involve alcohol, since alcohol consumption has increased over the last year.
Cartmell said he was torn about the vote, adding that criminal behaviour such as drug deals in parks go unchecked due to the lack of enforcement.
He also questioned whether the city should be endorsing consumption “with no way to correct the behaviour that comes out of that.”
Coun. Ben Henderson said voting down the measure would punish people who would be moderate in their alcohol use. “This is a situation where we are penalizing the vast majority of people who I think will be responsible about this for the few that won’t,” he said.
According to the city report, it will cost approximately $10,000 to put up signs in the designated areas and communicate the rules to the public. Furthermore, the Alberta government has permitted people to drink alcohol in provincial picnic sites since June 2020 under the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Amendment Act.