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Torontonians may be one step closer to drinking in parks — depending on what ward you're in

On Friday, Toronto city council voted to direct staff to design a pilot program that will allow residents to drink in select public parks in the city this summer. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
On Friday, Toronto city council voted to direct staff to design a pilot program that will allow residents to drink in select public parks in the city this summer. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Torontonians may be one step closer to cracking open a beer or sipping on wine at their local park — but whether you can have a drink in nature will depend on what part of the city you're in.

After hours of debate on Friday, city council directed staff to create a pilot program to allow residents to drink in select public parks this summer. Staff will report back to council in July, and if approved by council, residents can participate from Aug. 5 to Oct. 9.

But each councillor can choose to opt out of the program entirely, making parks in their area off-limits when it comes to drinking in public.

The issue of drinking alcohol in city-owned parks is finally moving ahead after being punted at city council for years. And while the move may be a glimmer of hope for locals hoping to drink with friends in parks throughout the city, some councillors raised concerns over the efficacy and equity of council's approach thus far.

"You shouldn't have to live in certain areas to be able to participate," said Spadina Fort-York Coun. Ausma Malik, whose amendment to make the pilot project city-wide instead of ward-based was quashed by a tied vote.

"We know that it isn't actually possible for people to go to any park in the city. You want to be able to count on your local park to be what you need, when you need it and that's what's really important."

Ward-based approach 'silly,' says Matlow

Toronto-St. Paul's Coun. and mayoral candidate Josh Matlow called the ward-based nature of the program "silly" and "not a good way to govern." His own motion to scrap the pilot in favouring of waiting for a fulsome report from staff on how to design the program lost by four votes.

"We may know where all the words are, but you know, residents frankly don't know each park in each ward and who's the counselor," said Matlow, adding a ward-based approach will leave residents confused on where they can and can't drink.

Despite the successful motion, several councillors took issue with the concept of expanding drinking in public spaces, citing the need for extra enforcement of the program, a possible unintended influx of people drinking in other city-owned spaces and a possible overall decline in safety.

The staff report will include advice from the city's medical officer of health, who will weigh in on any harm-reduction, treatment or education programs that should be in place prior to the approval of any pilot location.