Toronto council to mull whether to allow alcohol at parks and beaches this summer
Coun. Josh Matlow proposing idea of outdoor drinking for 2nd time during pandemic
A Toronto city councillor is proposing that residents be allowed to drink alcohol at parks and beaches this summer as part of a pilot project.
Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto St. Paul's, said he will ask council on Thursday to permit the drinking of alcohol between the hours of 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. but only at parks and beaches that have public washrooms.
Torontonians can drink outdoors in a safe and responsible manner, Matlow said on Tuesday.
"There are many Torontonians who have back yards, but there are so many people who don't. And Torontonians have told me and I think all of council very clearly that they want to be able to enjoy our public spaces," Matlow said.
Under his proposal, the beverages would not exceed 15 per cent alcohol. The pilot project would run from May 21 to Oct. 31.
"It seems antiquated and tired, and absurd even, that Toronto — unlike cities around the world and across Canada — still restricts responsible adults to be able to have a cold drink in a park on a hot summer day together."
The motion marks the second time during the COVID-19 pandemic that Matlow has suggested the idea. In April last year, the economic and community development committee quashed a similar motion, sending it back to staff for further study. That move was an attempt to make it disappear, he said.
"This is my second effort to bring it back for approval," he said.
He said he proposed the idea last year because it was a way to allow residents to socialize outside, where the risk of spreading COVID-19 was lower than it was inside.
Matlow said drunk and disorderly behaviour is already happening in parks and on beaches and he said bylaw officers, along with police, would still be cracking down on it if his motion passes.
"The reality is that the vast majority of people don't immediately become violent, or turn into awful people, if they just have a single beer or two on a hot day during a picnic or sitting on a bench," he added. "The rules and the laws affecting drunk and disorderly behaviour would not be affected and would not change."
Parks not free of alcohol currently, councillor says
As for people who have chosen a sober lifestyle, who go to parks to enjoy nature and who do not want to be exposed to people drinking outside, he said parks are not free of alcohol right now.
"I don't think it's reasonable to assume that parks are alcohol-free zones, because there are people who are drinking illegally already."
His motion, seconded by Coun. Anthony Perruzza, who represents Ward 7, Humber River-Black Creek, would ban the consumption of alcoholic beverages near playgrounds and sports fields. Such a ban would be in keeping with the prohibition on smoking.
And it calls on council to ask the general manager of the city's parks, forestry and recreation division to ensure as many parks and beaches as possible have washroom facilities, including portable toilets, and to provide more garbage and recycling receptacles.
Laura Bobadilla, owner of newly launched Piknic Deco, a company that specializes in what it calls "luxury picnic setups," said allowing people to drink legally in parks would be a boost to her business. She said the idea for the company came out of the pandemic because people couldn't go to restaurants during lockdowns.
If the city passed the motion, she would be all for it, she said Tuesday.
"That would help so much because a lot of people do want a glass of champagne or some wine on their picnics. The restrictions make it a little difficult. It would help business a lot."
Bobadilla said she doesn't have any concerns. She said permission to drink might actually control and regulate what goes on in parks and on beaches right now. If it isn't an issue now, it's not likely going to be an issue if the motion passes, she added.