Will Park Drinking Soon Be Legal?

Though it feels like the sun has been playing hide and seek with Vancouverites all summer, it’s mid-July, and we’re finally in for a stretch of good weather. It’s the perfect time to get outdoors, and Vancouver’s parks and beaches are filled with socially distant groups of friends and families.

We’re all excited to take advantage of the public open space to safely reconnect with our loved ones, but these outdoor picnics aren’t precisely like dinner in your backyard. For one thing, alcohol isn’t allowed in Vancouver’s parks—but that may be changing.

Public Drinking Currently Prohibited
Right now, if thirsty locals want to bring a bottle of wine to the beach, they have to imbibe on the sly or risk a $230 ticket. That’s because alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited on the city’s parks and beaches under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Park Board. For years now, the park board has been promising to study legal alternatives to allow public alcohol consumption, but initiatives have always stalled without passing.

Current conditions are ripe for change, though. With COVID-19 forcing all safe socialization to happen outside, restaurants struggling with reduced indoor capacity but finally allowed to sell alcohol to-go, and a local population that’s more than 60% apartment-dwellers, there’s increasing pressure on the board to reconsider. Just across Burrard Inlet, North Vancouver is showing us how a pilot program might work.

North Vancouver Leads the Way
As of June 22nd, the City of North Vancouver started a four-month test program to allow alcohol consumption in nine public spaces.

“This bylaw is about creating space outdoors for residents to socialize in a way that respects physical distancing,” North Vancouver’s mayor Linda Buchanan announced in a press release. “By allowing people to gather in our parks we’re supporting their well-being, as well as supporting local restaurants and breweries.”

Access for Every Neighbourhood
North Vancouver’s program designates specific alcohol-allowed zones, and Vancouver officials are eying something similar here: not all parks, not all the time, and not near playgrounds or schools. The goal isn’t to isolate alcohol-drinkers, though: an initial proposal limited to ten parks was delayed by Park Commissioner Dave Demers just last week, in a call to make the program more accessible for all local residents.

Demers argued that it didn’t make sense for people to travel across the city to access the original ten locations.

“To me, I always thought the core idea of this project was to incentivize people to use their own local park as their own backyard,” Demers said. “If we ask them to move to another neighbourhood, that’s counter-intuitive.”

Instead, the commissioners were unanimous in their request for a plan that includes approved drinking sites in all 23 of the city’s neighbourhoods. That way, residents could enjoy a responsible beverage with friends without travelling across town and risking physical distancing in crowded beer gardens.

One More Meeting
The latest plan will be presented at the next park board meeting on Monday, July 20th, but time is running out: that’s the board’s last meeting of the summer. The board also needs to ensure that the provincial government amends the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Act to give them the authority to run the program. The provincial government has indicated that that shouldn’t be an issue, though.

Until then, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that soon we’ll be able to enjoy a civil tipple outdoors with our friends!

Make Your Own Outdoor Space
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