By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Toronto’s City Council is gearing up to introduce legal alcohol consumption in some public parks.
On Thursday, July 6, the Economic and Community Development Committee will consider City Staff’s Alcohol In Parks pilot program which will allow Torontonians to drink alcohol in 20 select parks.
“I’m pleased that local councillors have opted-in a broad range of parks in 12 wards across the city to participate in this sensible pilot to allow alcohol in parks this summer and fall,” said Don Valley North Councillor and Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee Shelley Carroll.
“My thanks to City staff who have prepared this public health-informed approach and are ready to monitor and evaluate this pilot with added attention.”
If the program gets City Council’s full approval at its meeting later this month, Toronto will join cities such as Vancouver and Edmonton where public alcohol consumption in parks is now legal after successful pilot programs.
The Toronto pilot project would last from Wednesday, Aug. 2. until Monday, Oct. 9, after which a decision to make it permanent will be made.
This plan after Toronto Council asked staff to explore options for the introduction of such a program in May
Councillors who showed interest and support for the program were asked to present locations in their wards that would be suitable for the pilot program. Twelve out of Toronto’s 25 councillors opted into the program.
This includes Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford who has arranged for East Toronto Athletic Field (northeast corner of Main Street and Gerrard Street East) to be used as the sole participating park for the pilot program in his ward..
“Torontonians already responsibly enjoy a beer or a glass of wine in our parks regularly and it’s time for City Hall to wake up to this reality,” said Bradford. “The people in our city, especially those who live in apartments and condos, should be able to catch up with family and friends while enjoying a drink or two outdoors responsibly.”
Bradford told Beach Metro Community News that although he would have preferred a city-wide program, most of his colleagues at council opted for a pilot project instead.
The pilot required selected parks to meet various criteria in order to be approved. These criteria included washroom and drinking water access; a moderate park size; no schools or nearby waterfront; accessibility for first responders; population density of surrounding neighbourhood; and public transit access.
“Based on that criteria, City staff agreed that the East Toronto Athletic Field would be a good place to start, with the intention of expanding the program in the years to come,” said Bradford.
During the May 10 Toronto Council meeting on the plan, Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher proposed a motion that required staff to report back on all eligible parks that meet criteria which resulted in two parks being presented for her own ward, after which Fletcher added two more larger parks.
Toronto-Danforth now has four parks taking part in the pilot project, the most of any ward in the city. Toronto-Danforth parks in the pilot project are Greenwood Park, Riverdale Park East, Withrow Park, and Monarch Park.
“This is not the City introducing keggers in parks,” said Fletcher. “It’s simply that when you’re there with your picnic, [enjoying] an afternoon in the park, you can have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.”
Although public alcohol will be legal through the duration of the pilot program, Fletcher emphasized to community members that the City of Toronto still does not permit public intoxication. Furthermore, alcohol consumption is not permitted in parks other than the ones proposed for the pilot project
“It’s a pilot. We’re going to see how it works and [see] if people are respectful and thoughtful,” said Fletcher. “This is not an invitation to party in the park.”
Fletcher acknowledged that people already drink in parks but says that City Council’s new program aims to modernize Toronto’s approach to dealing with public alcohol consumption as well as “eliminating the pressure” of a $300 fine for having a drink publicly.
Residents are still prohibited from selling or serving alcohol in any park without the proper permits.
Following review by the Economic Development and Community Committee on July 6, recommendations will go before Toronto Council at its meeting from July 19 to 21 before a final decision on the pilot program will be made.
With the City of Toronto facing financial struggles, some have questioned what the financial implications of such a program will be.
However, according to staff reports which have been reviewed by the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer, there will be no financial impacts as a result of the Alcohol In Parks pilot as “resources to implement the proposed pilot program” as it stands “will be accommodated within the existing budgets”.
The parks that will be part of the proposed pilot project and the ward they are located in are:
Eglinton Park, Eglinton-Lawrence;
Dufferin Grove Park; Davenport;
Campbell Avenue Playground and Park; Davenport;
Dovercourt Park, Davenport;
Roundhouse Park, Spadina-Fort York;
Trinity Bellwoods Park; Spadina-Fort York;
Christie Pits Park, University-Rosedale;
Queen’s Park, University-Rosedale;
Sir Winston Churchill Park, Toronto-St. Paul’s;
Corktown Common Ward, Toronto Centre;
Greenwood Park, Toronto-Danforth;
Riverdale Park East, Toronto-Danforth;
Withrow Park, Toronto-Danforth;
Monarch Park, Toronto-Danforth;
Skymark Park, Don Valley North;
Lee Lifeson Art Park, Willowdale;
East Toronto Athletic Field, Beaches-East York;
Milliken Park, Scarborough North;
Neilson Park, Scarborough-Rouge River.
— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.