Toronto City Council overturns movement to allow drinking in parks

Park goers, hide your beer.

Drinking in Toronto’s parks and beaches will remain illegal this summer after the city council on Thursday decided not to go ahead with a pilot project that would have lifted a ban on outdoor drinking on an experimental basis.

But the council left the door open to legalize drinking in parks in the future. They supported a motion by Mayor John Tory for city staff to study the idea and report in early spring 2023.

“I have no problem with anyone having a beer or a glass of wine responsibly in a park,” said Tory, who said he supported updating the city’s statute to reflect the reality that many people already drink in parks without any problems.

But the mayor said he had discussed the matter with council members and it was clear the proposal to change the rules this summer, which was put forward by Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12, Toronto—St. Paul’s), did not have enough votes to pass.

Tory’s motion directed the team to consult with the public and review the experience of other jurisdictions. The mayor said he hoped the staff would provide enough advance notice to approve any rule changes in time for the summer of 2023.

Matlow argued that allowing alcohol consumption in parks would give residents who don’t have backyards or porches a way to socialize without having to gather indoors while COVID-19 remains a threat. His motion also argued that enforcement of the current ban is uneven and could disproportionately punish people of color.

When it became clear that his motion would be rejected, Matlow told the board that he found his approach to the issue “so frustrating” and seemed like he was looking for “every possible reason not to deal” with an issue that was important to many residents.

“There are people in our city who have backyards where they can have family and friends over for a drink and a barbecue, catch up on their lives and be together. But there are so many Torontonians who don’t,” he said.

“They live in buildings where they don’t have access to the outdoors and they don’t want to be treated like mockers every time they get together with a friend in a park and have a beer on a hot summer day.”

But he failed to sway many of his peers, with councilors from across the political spectrum raising concerns about public health, disruptions for residents living near parks and the city’s resources needed to implement the pilot. They supported Tory’s motion on a 17-2 vote.

The pilot would have allowed the consumption of beverages that do not exceed 15% alcohol by volume in public parks and beaches with restrooms between 11 am and 9 pm.

Offenses such as public intoxication, public urination and excessive noise would have remained on the books, which Matlow and other proponents said allowed authorities to clamp down on disruptive behavior while allowing residents to enjoy a drink responsibly.

This is the second time since the start of the pandemic that the council has refused to lift the ban on drinking in parks. Matlow filed a similar motion last spring, but a city committee voted to refer it to city staff, effectively killing her.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto reporter who covers city hall and city politics for the Star. Contact him via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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