With suggestions from public health indicating that we should be avoiding indoor gatherings this summer, are there plans in the works to allow for alcohol consumption in our parks this summer to encourage outdoor socialization? Also related to this, will parks be open later to discourage groups from going back to ill-advised indoor gatherings?
Agnes Street Bandit asks—
When is New West going to follow suit with North Vancouver, Penticton and much of Europe and allow some forms of drinking in parks? With concerns of social distancing and it becoming clear that COVID is unlikely to be spread outdoors it seems like a no brainer. Without a rule in place it seems like another luxury people with detached homes and a backyard have over folks in condos. Beyond the virus does this not add to making New West a more livable city where the citizens want to enjoy the parks and public spaces without worrying about getting a ticket? As North Vancouver Mayor Buchanan says “…[treat] adults like adults.”
I am actually surprised about these questions. My surprise is that more people aren’t asking and this hasn’t been a bigger topic of conversation in the New West. The shortest answer is that we didn’t prioritize this for this summer, with all of the other stuff going on. I suspect it will happen sooner than later, but not in summer of 2020. As always, there is a longer answer.
The Provincial government a couple of years back made changes to the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Act so that a Municipality could designate a public place, or part of it, as a place where liquor can be consumed. There are some details in here, and I am *not* a Lawyer, but the way I read it, the City could designate part of a park, all of a park, or even the entire City (everywhere that is Municipal jurisdiction, anyway) as a place where it is legal to drink a beer, wine, or cocktail.
There are rules under the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation, which exists under a similarly-named Act (I blogged about the difference between Acts and Regulations a little while ago). This regulation says that if a City wants to designate such a place for public drinking, they need to post signs that show the outline of the place, the hours when drinking is permitted, etc.
Of course, all of the other rules we have around booze would still apply – you cannot be a minor in possession of alcohol, you can’t be driving an automobile, you can’t be performing brain surgery, and you cannot be intoxicated. Remember, the rule that allows public drinking does not allow public drunkenness.
To designate this place-to-drink, the City needs to pass a Bylaw that fits the criteria set out by the province. A few cities have done it in selected areas of some parks, notably North Vancouver City and Port Coquitlam. Vancouver ran into a typically-Vancouver problem because they have a unique governance structure where the Parks Board strictly has *jurisdiction* over the parks, but the language in the Act specifically says a “Municipality or Regional District with jurisdiction may…” and the Parks Board is neither of those, so they need to get some special clearance from the Province because the legality of the Bylaw could be challenged and that would be a bit of a hassle… so they are working on it. But I digress.
If New Westminster wanted to pursue this, we would need to pass a Bylaw. That is neither a simple nor a particularly complex process. We would have to do all the legal stuff to make sure it is functional (see Parks Board, above) and decide where and how to appropriately designate and sign the place, but we have professional staff who can do this work. That said, when we mess with Parks space and how it is used or allocated, we need to talk to the community and user groups first. I have been through enough Dog Park consultations to know that people in New West take their park space very seriously, and changes need to be approached with a bit of caution and a lot of conversation.
I know that sounds like I’m slipping into bureaucrat speak, especially if you are one (like me) that likes the idea of having the occasional beer or goblet of wine during a picnic. But there is work to do here on two fronts, and we haven’t done the work yet.
First are the legislative questions. One example I can think of is: how does this impact Special Event licensing? If a group wants to have an event (as commonly happens in our City in normal times, like Music by the River or the Pecha Kucha at the Queens Park Bandstand) where alcohol is served with a special event license, can we still do that if this is a designated “bring your own booze” area? There is a provincial rule that says a place cannot have two licenses at the same time, so is “open for drinking” considered a license? We don’t want to put unexpected barriers in place to community groups who use our space for events, and if we designate the Bandshell (for example) as an area where drinking is OK, does that preclude youth events at the Bandshell? These are technical questions, so we should be able to get straight-forward answers as we work through them, but that takes a bit of time and legal review.
What will take more time is talking to the community about where and how much. I have spent enough time on other continents where Protestant alcohol rules are not as common, and could imagine opening all of New West to open carry without chaos breaking out. However, in my role I need to hear from and respect the voices of others who don’t share that feeling. Our goals as a community include being as inclusive and welcoming as possible. We need to consider how this change would impact everyone in the community.
Some people simply don’t want to be around others drinking alcohol. It may be a religion thing, it may be related to trauma people have experienced around alcohol use, it may be people going through recovery from addiction, it may just be people would rather not be in that space. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from, everyone has a right to reasonable access to public space. When we change the standards for public behaviours in a community – and how we use laws to enforce those behaviours – it needs to be the community driving it. We need to find the balance between how different people want to use public space, especially as those wants are often contradictory. some don;t want booze near playgounds, some parent specifically want to be able to have a beer while watching their kids use the playground. The balance is often hard to find.
There is an interesting equity lens on this, as well. How is our current prohibition on public drinking enforced, and how would a more permissive set of regulations (you can have a beer on this side of the line, not on that side) be enforced? We need to talk to our Bylaws and Police staff to talk about enforcement and complaints-response strategies, because our anecdotal history here is that youth and marginalized populations are enforced very differently than white 50 year old middle class picnickers like me.
So with that background, I can say with confidence it’s not going to happen this summer. There was no community push to have it happen this summer, and with the large number of things going on through our Pandemic response, it simply wasn’t a priority. To the best of my knowledge, no staff have it on their current work plan to start this process. Depending on how things go with recovery this fall, we may be able to task staff with doing this work for the 2021 summer season. As always, I cannot speak for all of Council, so I’m not sure how a proposed change would be received, but I think opening up public spaces to responsible drinking is the inevitable direction. I just can’t give you a timeline.