Will Toronto allow drinking in parks?

Jul 6, 2021

At the end of May, the city of Edmonton launched a pilot project approved by city council to permit alcohol consumption in some river valley parks from May 28 to Oct. 11, 2021, and Toronto’s Coun. Josh Matlow thinks Toronto should follow in their footsteps.

There are a total of 47 picnic sites throughout Edmonton’s seven river valley parks where alcohol consumption will be legally permitted — comprising approximately a quarter of total picnic sites in the parks. These parks include Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Whitemud, William Hawrelak, Government House, Victoria, Gold Bar and Rundle.

“We’re asking folks to stay close to home but still get out and explore their city,” said Ward 3 Councillor Jon Dziadyk. “The sites that have been chosen have been selected carefully for appropriateness in terms of closeness to washrooms and waste receptacles and away from playgrounds.”

The project was launched after the city carried out an online survey earlier this year, which showed 71% of the more than 15,000 respondents supported the idea.

Specifically, 85% of respondents said allowing alcohol consumption “completes an enjoyable food experience,” while 82% said it “regulates an activity that’s already happening” and 79% said “it increases the opportunity for social interaction with family and friends.”

Park visitors can either book a spot online or use the specified park sites on a first-come-first-serve basis. Alcohol consumption will be allowed from 11 AM to 9 PM daily at picnic sites marked with signs.

“We want a situation where people can still gather safely and this just seemed honestly the right thing during COVID and also just the right thing in general,” Dziadyk added.

Cities including Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary have launched similar projects, allowing their residents to consume alcoholic beverages in designated municipal parks. In contrast, the proposal by Toronto’s Coun. Josh Matlow to implement a similar pilot was rejected by the Economic and Community Development Committee in late April. Furthermore, the committee report did not specify when the issue can come back to council.

“The City stated clearly a few weeks ago that individuals consuming an alcoholic beverage in a park with their household are not a priority for enforcement,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory’s spokesperson, Lawvin Hadisi.

However, Coun. Matlow said he has received “a lot of backlash” from the public regarding the committee’s decision and criticized Toronto’s “timid” approach. “It was clear that the public was just stunned and upset by the lack of courage the committee demonstrated,” he said. Coun. Matlow added that he proposed the project for reasons of public health and equity, and because he believes that limiting people’s outdoor options encourages them to gather indoors.

“Just because we might drink with a friend at a park, will that mean that people who otherwise would act responsibly would tonight go on a bender and start vandalizing the parks? I mean, that’s absurd,” he said.