Item - 2021.EC21.15
- This item was considered by Economic and Community Development Committee on April 27, 2021. The Economic and Community Development Committee has referred this item to an official or other body without making a decision. Consult the text of the decision for further information on the referral.
EC21.15 - Enjoying a Drink Outdoors: Providing Safe, Responsible and Equitable Options for All Torontonians
- Decision Type:
The Economic and Community Development Committee:
1. Referred the letter (April 12, 2021) from Councillor Josh Matlow to the General Manager, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards, and the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Medical Officer of Health, for consideration.
The first few months of the pandemic saw the City take dramatic measures such as wrapping caution tape over park benches and basketball nets, while groups of enforcement officers were deployed to discourage lingering in green spaces and beaches throughout our city. We have learned a lot about COVID-19 transmission since the first wave last spring. The City now encourages residents to actively use parks for exercise and socializing, as long as appropriate distances are maintained.
As we approach the second summer of the pandemic, public health officials recognize the reality that, especially after a year in isolation, people need to socialize. It is up to us as policy makers to create environments where those connections with friends and family can be made in the safest way possible.
Last summer, Council recognized the importance of being able to enjoy a drink outside by loosening restrictions on patios with the successful CaféTO program, which will be brought back this year. Some residents will choose to enjoy a drink with loved ones in their backyards or on their balconies.
However, what about Torontonians that can't afford a drink in a bar or don't have an outdoor space in their homes? These residents should not be left with unsafe options such as gathering indoors or, like many over the past year, choosing to drink illegally in parks.
Dr. Zain Chagla, an associate professor who studies infectious diseases at McMaster University, has been quoted saying that "there's all these reports of transmission in bars and house parties. So why don't we mitigate that risk? Let's use the outdoors rather than forcing people indoors for their gatherings".
Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert from the University of Alberta, told a news outlet that easing up on public drinking laws this summer during the pandemic would be helpful stating that "anything that is outdoors – as long as people aren't shoulder to shoulder – we should be encouraging". He also said that being able to drink in public doesn't necessarily result in people drinking in excess, "we don't want to outlaw all behaviour just because taken to the extreme there can be problematic examples".
Public intoxication and underage drinking are already illegal under provincial law. Littering, excessive noise, and public urination are also ticketable offences and are already issued in many parks. In other words, those who behave irresponsibly are not concerned with existing policies. This motion seeks to increase and focus enforcement on problem behaviours that are already occurring by freeing up resources while loosening restrictions for responsible adults who wish to responsibly and safely enjoy a beer or glass of wine.
Cities of similar size around the world including Montreal, London, Paris, and Sydney permit residents to drink in parks. In response to the pandemic, Vancouver approved drinking in 9 parks last year with many more scheduled to be opened up for alcohol in 2021. Toronto, like some other North American cities, has uneven enforcement with inequitable results.
Allowing alcohol consumption in parks came to my attention a few years ago when a friend relayed a concerning incident. I personally know someone who was approached by by-law officers while drinking a beer with another person in a park. He was able to talk himself out of a ticket and was just given a warning. He then noticed two groups of people doing the exact same thing given tickets by the same officer. My friend is white and the people receiving tickets were Black. I have heard similar stories in the years since, including during the pandemic.
While Toronto does not keep race-based statistics on the issuance of tickets for drinking in parks, the example from New York City is troubling. In 2020, the New York Police Department issued 1,250 criminal summonses for drinking in public. Out of that number, 48 percent went to Black individuals, 43 percent to Hispanics, and only 7 percent went to white people.
For public health and equity, this motion seeks to follow the lead of Vancouver by implementing a pilot project to allow beer and wine consumption in public parks and beaches between 11:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. from Friday, May 21, 2021 to Sunday, October 31, 2021.
(April 12, 2021) E-mail from Ryan Cowling (EC.Main)
(April 12, 2021) E-mail from Sally Shaw (EC.Main)
(April 13, 2021) E-mail from Della M. Hough (EC.Main)
(April 13, 2021) Submission from Judy Love (EC.Main)
(April 13, 2021) E-mail from Andrew Pothier (EC.Main)
(April 23, 2021) Submission from Robert Mann and Samantha Wells, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (EC.New)
(April 25, 2021) E-mail from Linda Makarchuk (EC.New)
(April 26, 2021) Letter from Melissa Goldstein (EC.New)
(April 27, 2021) E-mail from Brian T. (EC.New)
Andrew Murie, MADD Canada
Councillor James Pasternak
Councillor Josh Matlow
Councillor Anthony Perruzza
1. The Economic and Community Development Committee refer the letter from Councillor Josh Matlow to the General Manager, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards, and the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Medical Officer of Health, for consideration.