Cracking open a beer or popping a cork on some wine might legally happen some day in Edmonton’s parks.
City council’s Community Services Committee asked city staff Wednesday to look into allowing drinking. However it’s going to be a very slow process, based on comments made by city administration.
“It sounds like there’s interest,” said Councillor Bev Esslinger following the meeting.
“We’ll need to look at that.”
The debate wound up on the committee’s agenda after it was pursued by the Edmonton Youth Council. Nineteen-year-old Thomas Banks III, the grandson of the late senator, said legal drinking would encourage more of-age young people to visit the parks.
Banks left the meeting feeling encouraged.
“I think council is being prudent in waiting to see whether or not there’s going to be provincial legislation that would render their work redundant,” he told reporters.
However, several city procedures, areas of enforcement among bylaw staff and other considerations will have to be looked at first. That includes defining what a picnic site is.
A city lawyer gave a brief outline of what might be expected from the province.
“They have mentioned they would like to loosen some of the restrictions in terms of allowing people to enjoy liquor more when they’re in festivals, potentially camping, maybe more restrictions on provincial parks,” Vivian Lee said. “But we’re not sure if they’re going to change the designated picnic site, that sort of thing.”
Questions were raised about whether this would sanction what already happens.
“Do we have any sense whether people already consume alcohol at picnic sites, say, in Hawrelak Park?” Councillor Michael Walters asked, fully knowing the answer.
“Anecdotally, I think it happens on occasion,” replied David Aitkin, the city’s manager for the Community Standards Branch. “It’s like speeding on the Whitemud.”
“The predominance is people don’t. However, our park rangers, and likely the Edmonton Police Service, do come across, on occasion, those folks who are consuming alcohol in our parks system.”
While the province enforces the bulk of the rules, the city can loosen things up in city-owned parks.
“That’s just our sphere,” Lee told the committee. “Our sphere right now is just being able to designate certain picnic area sites where one can consume alcohol.”
Drinking in city parks is currently allowed if a $10 licence is bought from Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis, which can be done online.
Councillor Ben Henderson questioned staff about whether current rules stigmatize drinking, making any potential problems worse.
“I suspect that you may actually have less problems and what we need to be policing is not whether or not someone is drinking, but whether or not someone is being disruptive, drunk and disorderly, those kinds of things.
“That’s the thing that bothers somebody else; not whether or not someone is actually having a glass of wine.”
“I wouldn’t disagree with that,” Aitkin responded.
Councillor Scott McKeen expressed concern after recent changes to drinking in provincial parks. He also had one bit of advice for Banks, offering some movie viewing as a homework assignment.
“Ever seen the movie Animal House?” he asked. “It might be on Netflix. Just recommend that for this weekend. It could be educational for you.”
City staff will report back next spring after new provincial regulations are known, as well as the results of a pilot project this summer that the City of Calgary is conducting.