Should you be able to enjoy a glass of beer or wine in public places like parks or beaches?
One B.C. craft beer consumer group thinks so, and staged a protest on Sunday to make its point.
The “Beer on the Beach: A Picnic Protest” was organized by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and billed as a “family friendly” event.
About two dozen supporters gathered for the English Bay beach event, which kicked off at noon.
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CAMRA president David Perry said the goal of the event was to get B.C. municipalities, and Vancouver in particular, to see that responsible drinking can happen in public places.
“Why not start with Vancouver, why not start with — for a lack of a better term — the heart of the province? This is the biggest city, this is a world class city, this is where the Olympics were.”
B.C. has long had a law on the books allowing drinking in designated public areas, if approved by cities and the head of the Liquor Control and Licensing Board.
As a part of the province’s liquor policy review, that regulation was loosened in January to allow municipalities to designate any area for public drinking, without provincial approval, so long as signs are posted.
“I can’t think of a single municipality in B.C. that’s allowed it,” Perry said.
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Critics of the idea say they’re worried that allowing the consumption of alcohol in public places could lead to public intoxication, aggressive behaviour and an increase in trash.
Perry said those are valid concerns, but that laws are already on the books to combat specific bad behaviours.
“We have public intoxication laws, we have verbal abuse, physical abuse, indecent exposure. All of these laws exist, and we don’t want that to change. I fully expect that if someone is stumbling down the street they’re going to get a public intoxication ticket.”
Perry added that people are already drinking in public but hiding it, and that bringing it into the light could actually make it safer.
Other attendees questioned why people with alcohol are targeted while the city takes a hands-off approach to the consumption of other substances.
“So don’t you think it’s time that a family can come together and responsibly have a glass of wine?”
Others pointed to Europe where there is a more relaxed attitude to the public consumption of alcohol.
“You can drink anywhere, on beaches, in parks, in cafes, you can bring the kids with you… When I came over to Vancouver or to Canada it was like, what’s going on here,” said Francine Reilly.
Alcohol consumption while picnicking is currently permitted in public places in Alberta and Quebec, and many other cities around the world.
Alberta requires a sign to be posted listing hours when drinking is permitted, and it bans consumption by people who appear intoxicated or who are not eating while drinking.
Under current B.C. laws, people caught in public with open alcohol could face a $240 fine.
Ahead of the event, the city of Vancouver referred questions to Vancouver police.
The VPD said officers would be patrolling the beach as usual, but that enforcement decisions are up to individual officers.
A spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department said he was not aware of any disruptions or tickets associated with the protest.
-With files from Aaron McArthur