By AMARACHI AMADIKE
Toronto city council approved the alcohol in parks pilot on Wednesday, July 19, after councillors voted 21-4 in favour of the program that allows residents and visitors aged 19 years and older to drink in 27 select parks beginning Aug. 2.
Some councillors have spoken out against the program, highlighting areas they believe it could negatively affect the community. York Centre Councillor James Pasternak said that he is against the “liberalization” of alcohol consumption in parks.
Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher, who has five participating parks in the pilot program, says that she doesn’t believe it will have a negative effect in her community.
“It’s a pilot, so we’ll see if it has any impact on businesses and their serving of alcohol,” said Fletcher about the idea of residents now going to parks instead of restaurants. “But I’m not anticipating that it will have a negative impact on many restaurants.”
Although Fletcher admits there’s no real way to predict the outcome without trying the pilot first, she told Beach Metro Community News that she doesn’t presume that the ability to drink in parks will stop people from going to restaurants.
“If you’re going for a picnic in the park, then that’s what you decided to do,” she said. “If you want to go out for dinner, then you’ll go to a restaurant.”
During last Wednesday’s council meeting, Fletcher proposed a motion to add an additional park, McCleary Park at Lake Shore Boulevard East near Carlaw Avenue, to the roster, bringing the number of participating parks in her ward to five. The motion passed 22-3.
Councillor Josh Matlow also had his motion to add Oriole Park, Hillcrest Park, Cedarvale Park and June Rowlands Park carried with a vote of 22-3.
Before councillors voted, one of the more outspoken critics of the alcohol-in-parks pilot, Councillor Stephen Holyday, proposed that the City’s general manager of parks, forestry and recreation prepare a design for a “no alcohol” sign that can be “deployed upon request of a local councillor should a problem arise with alcohol consumption at locations outside the pilot.”
His motion carried 16-9.
City staff hinted at a relaxed approach to bylaw enforcement during the pilot period. They told councillors that bylaw officers will not be using tools like portable breathalyzers to test people’s intoxication levels in parks.
This comes as no surprise to many as the City only issued about three tickets last year, and none in 2023, since alcohol consumption in parks rarely leads to problems, according to officials.
“We know from City stats that enforcement of the prohibition bylaws are now rarely enforced. Enforcement resources are better focussed on priorities that make our city safe,” said Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford.
He told Beach Metro Community News in an email statement that he welcomes the program’s approval as “Torontonians already responsibly enjoy a beer or glass of wine in our parks regularly.”
Bradford submitted one Ward 19 park for the pilot — East Toronto Athletic Field at Main and Gerrard streets. Bradford says that the project “will be an economic driver for our city’s bars and restaurants.”
It is unclear whether more locations will be added in Beaches-East York until after the pilot program. Although this move by the City isn’t aimed at creating party-like environments, Bradford highlights the importance of the freedom that comes with the program’s approval.
“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 some fresh air and a drink or two outdoors responsibly.”
From Aug. 2 to Oct. 9, 2023, the following approved Toronto parks are part of the pilot program:
- Eglinton Park, Ward 8 – Eglinton-Lawrence
- Earlscourt, Ward 9 – Davenport
- Dufferin Grove Park, Ward 9 – Davenport
- Campbell Avenue Playground and Park, Ward 9 – Davenport
- Dovercourt Park, Ward 9 – Davenport
- Roundhouse Park, Ward 10 – Spadina-Fort York
- Trinity Bellwoods Park, Ward 10 – Spadina-Fort York
- Christie Pits Park, Ward 11 – University-Rosedale
- Queen’s Park (110 Wellesley St W), Ward 11 – University-Rosedale
- Sir Winston Churchill Park, Ward 12 – Toronto-St. Paul’s
- Oriole Park, Ward 12, Toronto – St. Paul’s
- Hillcrest Park, Ward 12, Toronto – St. Paul’s
- Cedarvale Park, Ward 12, Toronto – St. Paul’s
- June Rowlands Park, Ward 12, Toronto – St. Paul’s
- Corktown Common, Ward 13 – Toronto Centre
- Greenwood Park, Ward 14 – Toronto-Danforth
- Riverdale Park East, Ward 14 – Toronto-Danforth
- Withrow Park, Ward 14 – Toronto-Danforth
- Monarch Park, Ward 14 – Toronto-Danforth
- McCleary Park, Ward 14 – Toronto-Danforth
- Skymark Park, Ward 17 – Don Valley North
- Lee Lifeson Art Park, Ward 18 – Willowdale
- East Toronto Athletic Field, Ward 19 – Beaches-East York
- Milliken Park, Ward 23 – Scarborough North
- Neilson Park – Scarborough, Ward 25 – Scarborough-Rouge Park
- Underpass Park, Ward 13 – Toronto Centre
- Morningside Park, Ward 24 – Scarborough-Guildwood
— 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.