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Crack open a cold one at a picnic: Allow open liquor in Calgary public parks

February 15, 2019 —

The City of Calgary recently surveyed residents on whether or not liquor should be allowed in public parks. A positive response would see a pilot project begin this summer to allow park users to consume liquor at picnic sites as per Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) regulations.

Section 89 of the current AGLC regulations allows liquor consumption with food in the picnic area of a public park, so long as the park’s owner or operator allows for such with a posted sign. However, as the City of Calgary operates the parks, no signs have been posted and liquor is prohibited.

Respondents of the online survey were asked to indicate their concerns — or lack thereof — with opening up public parks to liquor consumption. Pre-written options of concerns available to check off included “increase in disorderly behaviour,” “children are exposed to seeing liquor use,” “not reflective of my religion or culture” and “drinking before floating down the rivers,” among several others.

In February 2018, the City of Calgary began public engagement in order to revisit the Parks and Pathway Bylaw, a document that hasn’t been reviewed since 2003. Respondents were asked about what enhanced or hindered their park experience as well as which activities visitors wished they could do. Increased access to food vendors, additional sporting activities such as tobogganing and allowances for local art vendors were all wanted, suggesting a desire for a more immersive park experience.

The other common suggestion? Open liquor. Listening to these suggestions is the first step to ensuring that Calgary’s 8,000 hectares of parkland are enjoyed by the people who matter most — citizens of Calgary.

Several restaurants and bars have expressed concern with the project, worrying that consumers will spend their dollars elsewhere on a hot summer day. After all, who wouldn’t rather take a bottle of wine to the park instead of sitting indoors? Meanwhile, craft breweries have indicated their support, hoping beer-drinkers will buy a six-pack or growler direct from the brewery. Breweries also see the potential for the project to expand, perhaps eventually leading to beer gardens promoting local products.

The benefits to local breweries outweigh any issues with the potential attrition rates of restaurant customers. Those intending on spending the day outdoors with a picnic were unlikely to go to a restaurant or bar anyhow. Folks who enjoy having lunch and a drink on a patio generally like the vibe a restaurant offers. Also, restaurants offer something a picnic at the park never can — having someone serve and clean up after you.

Opponents of the pilot project worry about drunk and disorderly behaviour and the exposure of underage children and teens to alcohol. Neither of these arguments holds water.

Countries in Europe, as well as Japan and Brazil have long allowed adults to drink in public spaces. In Montreal, parks allow alcohol consumption with a meal — the same regulation that is being proposed in Calgary. There are no significant studies showing a correlation between drinking in public and increased disorderly behaviour.

A more practical reason for allowing the practice is that people already drink in parks — they just hide it. Either that or they drink prior to arriving. Who’s rowdier — the folks gunning a six-pack before they go to the park or the folks leisurely sipping their beer over a picnic lunch while enjoying the sunshine? Allowing open liquor consumption promotes moderation.

Children are already exposed to alcohol in media and in family restaurants, even if their family doesn’t drink. Further, seeing liquor consumption provides a teaching opportunity as a parent.

Our culture of burying liquor consumption underground and associating drinking with delinquency makes drinking remain taboo. And, as with all things taboo, it serves only to make the activity more enticing for underagers.

Treat the population of Calgary as adults and assume that they will behave as such. Sure, there are always folks who get out of hand. But if we operated under the assumption that someone who becomes rowdy and intoxicated should cause liquor service to stop for everyone, there wouldn’t be any more bars or restaurants.

Backlash quashed the potential for the consumption of cannabis in designated outdoor areas after legalization last year. Let’s hope people keep the outcry over the potential for outdoor drinking to a minimum. AGLC regulations are clear about a peace officer’s ability to enforce the law and remove those who overindulge from the park. We shouldn’t allow the fear that a few people will behave improperly to ruin a pleasant picnic for everyone else.

— Kristy KoehlerGauntlet editorial board

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