British Columbia

Vancouver councillors debate motions for allowing alcohol at city's parks and beaches

Even though it's a Park Board decision, two motions have been brought to city council asking that alcohol consumption be allowed in some public spaces.

2 motions for allowing alcohol consumption in some public spaces have been brought to city council

Vancouver city council is debating two motions that support relaxing the ban on alcohol consumption at public parks and beaches. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Allowing people to drink alcohol in public spaces has been hot topic of debate in Vancouver for years.

But now because of COVID-19, the arguments in favour of relaxing no-drinking bylaws got another boost in the form of two motions before city council on Tuesday, even though the park board has the ultimate say in the matter.

"Call us radical, but we don't think it should be illegal to bring a growler of beer or a bottle of wine to the park or beach," says the One City website touting a motion brought by Coun. Christine Boyle.

Boyle argues that particularly for low- and middle-income Vancouverites who live in small, high-density homes, parks and beaches are an extension of living space and even more important now because of physical distancing demands. 

The motion says allowing responsible consumption at parks and beaches would also boost local businesses like bars and restaurants that have been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions.

Boyle told council that hers "is squarely an advocacy motion," and that she's asking council to encourage a conversation with the park board.

The motion was referred to committee for further discussion on Wednesday.

A second motion, brought by Green Party councillors Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe, asks that the city work quickly with police and business improvement associations to come up with suitable locations and a framework to allow drinking in public spaces.

Fry says his motion is meant to promote responsible consumption, not reckless overconsumption.  

"By framing this in a way ... with signage, washrooms and garbage facilities, and really destigmatizing it where people aren't hiding in the bushes or going off to the farthest reaches where they won't be encumbered by law authorities ... it's putting a different frame on it," he said. 

Fry told council on Tuesday that municipalities can designate public space for liquor consumption under section 73 of the provincial Liquor Control Act.

Speakers will get the opportunity to address the motion on Wednesday.

People picnic at CRAB Park on Mother's Day. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Dave Demers, a commissioner with the Vancouver Park Board and its vice chair, said he is very curious about how these motions will be received Wednesday.

"I welcome all support for this idea," Demers said. "If these motions were to pass, it would help us get things moving at parks."

Demers said the regulations would allow people in condos without access to balconies to have an equal opportunity to enjoy drinking outside.

But an expert with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction says the city should think twice before relaxing the bylaws.

"If I could speak to councillors ... I would say the evidence shows that introducing alcohol to uncontrolled spaces could detract from public health and public safety," said Bryce Barker on CBC's The Early Edition on Tuesday.

Barker says alcohol is the second most harmful substance after tobacco, causing 19,000 hospitalizations and 2,100 deaths in B.C. in 2014.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story implied Vancouver City Council could decide on relaxing no-alcohol consumption bylaws at city parks and beaches. However, Vancouver Park Board is ultimately responsible for that decision.
    May 26, 2020 11:39 AM PT

With files from On The Coast

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