Saanich will consider a bylaw to temporarily allow residents to kick back with an alcoholic drink in 14 local parks but police have concerns.
Currently, North Vancouver and Penticton are the only cities in B.C. that allow drinking in public spaces but Saanich may soon be on the list. On May 25, council directed staff to report back with options for supporting economic resilience in the District. One option staff suggested was to authorize liquor in parks to encourage outdoor socializing while supporting local businesses.
On June 22, council will review a staff report and a draft of the Consumption of Liquor in a Public Place bylaw which would allow drinking in some parks until Sept. 30 – at which time council could reconsider.
Sections of 14 Saanich parks have been identified as suitable for the pilot project: Beckwith Park, Braefoot Park, Cadboro-Gyro Park, Cedar Hill Park, Craigflower-Kosapsom Park, Gorge Park, Gorge Waterway Park, Hampton Park, Hyacinth Park, Lambrick Park, Lochside Park, Playfair Park, Tyndall Park and Whitehead Park.
If approved, the draft bylaw would allow drinking in parks every day from noon to 8 p.m. In accordance with the Liquor Control and Licensing Act – which allows municipalities to control where liquor is consumed – signs would be posted to indicate the hours and locations where alcohol is permitted.
In a written statement to the District, Insp. Todd Bryant of the Saanich Police Department said police don’t support the proposed bylaw as alcohol can lead to poor choices and behaviour that may result in increased service calls to police.
Bryant also cited concerns about social distancing compliance, people from other municipalities coming to drink in Saanich parks and then driving home and the need for increased insurance. He added that Saanich doesn’t have the bylaw enforcement resources to maintain safety and ensure rules are followed. Management would fall to police who Bryant said “may not be able to adequately monitor the proposed parks.”
Police also feel the bylaw would conflict with efforts to assist those dealing with substance addictions and encourage healthy living for all residents. Bryant referenced Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam who said Canadians are consuming more alcohol and junk food during the pandemic.
He added that in Gorge Park, police already see homeless folks complying with daytime tent restrictions but many “remain in the park, drinking all day.” If alcohol were permitted in parks, Bryant sees this being replicated in other parks where overnight sheltering isn’t banned.
As of June 19, four residents had written to council on the matter – each was against allowing liquor consumption in parks. Some cited noise concerns, others mentioned children being exposed to alcohol, increased littering and business being taken away from bars and restaurants that are struggling because of the pandemic.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes, who’s been supportive of the bylaw, acknowledged the concerns raised by police and residents, noting that he felt it was “appropriate” that these issues be brought to the table. He emphasized that the bylaw is “not intended to allow poor behaviour” and that he sees the merits of allowing residents to drink in public spaces responsibly.
Haynes said council will have an in-depth discussion and will be “careful to consider all aspects” before making a decision.