Calgary

Calgary will test allowing alcohol consumption in city parks this summer

Calgary will test allowing those of legal age to imbibe in city parks this summer.

Calgarians can book picnic tables to enjoy a drink between June and September, if COVID restrictions permit

The city is allowing public consumption of alcohol at select picnic tables in municipal parks this summer. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Calgary will test allowing those of legal age to imbibe in city parks this summer.

Between June 1 and Sept. 7, Calgarians will be able consume alcohol at designated picnic sites around the city. The sites will be bookable online. 

Council voted 12-2 in favour of the proposal on Monday, with Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart and Coun. Jeromy Farkas voting against.

Data will be collected on how well the pilot goes, and presented to council by November. 

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she supported the idea, but questioned why booking picnic tables would be required.

"I don't know why we're over-regulating this," she said. "I don't know why we wouldn't just put signs on these picnic sites and say go ahead and have a drink here."

City administration said the booking system will enable them to collect data on the project.

Calgary currently has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol consumption in city parks, with the exception of events like festivals that have obtained an Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis licence to sell alcohol. 

A 2019 city survey found a slight majority were in favour of allowing public consumption. But the city postponed a pilot project which would have tested out the concept, saying with opinion somewhat divided and the complexities of enforcement more time would be needed to study the issue.

A later survey from the city, in December 2020, found interest in the idea has grown — with 79 per cent of respondents indicating support for alcohol consumption at small social gatherings in parks.

Coun. Colley-Urquhart said with the city's mental health and addiction strategy, OKing public drinking could send a mixed message.

"I think it's important for us to not dismiss the expert opinions of the [city's] medical officer of health," she said.

Dr. Karla Gustafson, Calgary's CMOH, had written a letter recommending against the pilot project, saying that without alcohol parks are places for lower-risk gatherings and exercise — and that there are many potential harms that could come from increasing places for people to consume alcohol.

"It is … important to have public spaces without alcohol," she said. 

"Alcohol, although often an accepted part of social gatherings in Calgarian culture, is not a benign substance. The behaviour of intoxicated individuals adds strain to justice and health systems already under considerable pressure."

'Parks have to be for everybody'

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who had brought forward the motion, proposed it would give people an opportunity to enjoy a few drinks together while practicing physical distancing outside. He thinks it's something that could work beyond the pandemic — a more European style of consumption.

Carra said the plug will be pulled on the project if it threatens Calgarians' enjoyment of city parks. 

"Parks have to be for everybody," he said. 

He pointed that Calgary would be joining the province, which has allowed people to drink alcohol in provincial picnic sites since June 2020 under the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Amendment Act.

Locations and regulations associated with the pilot project will be posted on the city's website before June. 

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