It could become easier to drink alcohol in Toronto parks. Here’s what’s changing

Click to play video: 'Toronto pushes for expansion to parks where you can enjoy a drink'
Toronto pushes for expansion to parks where you can enjoy a drink
RELATED: After finding there were no major issues with the Alcohol in Parks Pilot, Toronto councillors are planning on making it permanent, while expanding it to the 12 wards without a participating park. Matthew Bingley reports – Mar 28, 2024

Just over a year after Toronto launched a pilot to legalize drinking in city parks, the results are in and alcohol outdoors looks set to expand.

A city staff report assessing the results of the 2023 pilot, which allowed drinks like wine and beer in 27 city parks, found the project was met with high satisfaction.

The report said a majority of survey respondents reported feeling safe at parks where drinking was briefly allowed, there was no increase in hospital emergency department visits due to alcohol, there was no spike in calls to police and those who chose to drink at a park were considerate of those around them.

At a committee meeting on Thursday, Toronto councillors decided the positive results merited permanent approval. Under a policy approved by the committee, every ward will have at least one park where drinking is allowed.

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“What we want to do here is say, ‘This is policy-making,’ the councillor has an oversight role, but I don’t believe that councillors should be sort of saying yes or no on whether a policy will apply in their ward,” Coun. Alejandra Bravo, chair of the economic development committee, said.

“If it’s a good policy, then everybody should be participating.”

The initial pilot operated on an opt-out basis, leaving swaths of the city without a legal outdoor drinking space. The entirety of Etobicoke, for example, did not have a park where drinking alcohol was allowed.

Howie Dayton, the parks, forestry and recreation manager, said the city should adopt a policy that doesn’t change from one area to another.

“We want to make sure that if there is a program that council has approved, that it is available based on criteria in every part of the city,” he said.

The addition of other wards means the city will likely have at least 40 parks where drinking is allowed this summer if council approves the committee plan.

That expansion was initially set for September but it will now likely be moved to July after Coun. Paula Fletcher pitched a timeline to maximize the summer that is breaking onto the horizon.

“If they come online in July, that gives people a chance to have their picnic, with their beer, in that park this summer,” she said. “That makes a lot of sense, which is why I changed the recommendation.”

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The 2023 pilot cost taxpayers roughly $60,000 to implement, according to city staff. Making the program permanent can be “accommodated within existing resources.”

City staff also recommend that any additional park designated as a safe space for drinking must follow certain criteria, including that the size of the park should be at least 1.5 hectares, it should not be across from schools and it should not be on the waterfront.

The expansion recommended by the committee will become official once council ratifies the decision.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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