Toronto

Torontonians won't be allowed to drink alcohol in parks this summer as committee quashes motion

Its a "terrible idea" and "gross violation of public advice," one Toronto councillor said.

Coun. Josh Matlow pushed for alcohol in parks to help residents cope with 2nd pandemic summer

Trinity Bellwoods park in west Toronto was packed with people May 24, 2020, drawing the ire of public officials like Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford. Lees than a year later, a city hall committee has quashed a motion that would making drinking legal in public parks. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Toronto residents won't be allowed to have a beer in a park this summer, or anytime soon.  

A motion that would've allowed legal drinking in city parks was sent back to staff for further study by a unanimous economic and community development committee Tuesday, with Coun. James Pasternak calling it a "terrible idea" that's inappropriate, unenforceable and a "gross violation of public advice." 

Coun. Josh Matlow, who is not on the committee, said he put forward the motion with the intention of allowing residents to socialize outdoors whether or not they have a backyard or can afford a drink on a patio.

If people aren't given the option to drink responsibly outside, they may choose to go against public orders and gather with friends inside, where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is far greater, Matlow told the committee.

"We don't wish them to but the reality is it's still happening. I'd rather they have the legal option to go outdoors," he said from a park, but without a beer.

"It has never been more important than to move on this now," Matlow said. 

However, the city's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa disagreed. Plunged into the pandemic's third wave, Toronto Public Health is urging people to limit all social gatherings.

"When alcohol becomes part of the picture, we know people become uninhibited and they're less able and less likely to adhere to self-protection measures," she said. 

City staff also did not seem keen on the idea, noting there are 100 bylaw officers available to monitor Toronto's 1,500 parks, while also enforcing public health measures to control the pandemic. 

"The math will tell you that we do not have enough staff to be everywhere, to do all things," said Carleton Grant, executive director of municipal licensing and standards. 

The city is also having "tremendous difficulty" keeping up with increased public washroom use and littering as the pandemic pushes residents outdoors, said Janie Romoff, general manager of parks.

Coun. Michael Thompson, the committee chair, said while "we're not the city of 'no,'" now's not the right time. Toronto needs to do more public consultation and study so it's not a "free for all." 

Matlow described the discussion at the committee as "'incredibly frustrating." He pointed to other cities that have legalized alcohol in public areas, such as Montreal, London, Paris and Sydney, Australia. 

"There's no evidence the sky has fallen," he said.

"There's no evidence there's hoards of people drinking." 

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