Legal drinking coming to parks throughout Toronto

A man drinks a beer in Trinity Bellwoods Park in August 2023. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A man drinks a beer in Trinity Bellwoods Park in August 2023. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Torontonians will soon be able to legally drink alcoholic beverages in at least one park in every ward of the city.

On Thursday evening, city council voted to immediately and permanently allow drinking in 44 parks, codifying and expanding a pilot project that began last summer in 27 locations.

Meanwhile, councillors who represent areas without at least one park where alcohol consumption is legal will now need to identify a park where it will be permitted. If they don't do so by early July, city staff will choose instead.

During the lengthy debate, five councillors —Frances Nunziata, Stephen Holyday, James Pasternak, Vincent Crisanti and Anthony Perruzza — filed motions to have their wards exempted from the new policy but were all narrowly voted down.

In addition to the 44 parks covered by Thursday's vote, city staff have identified 127 others that meet a strict set of criteria for inclusion in the expansion, including proximity to the waterfront and schools and access to washrooms and drinking water.

The pilot project started last August included parks in just 13 of Toronto's 25 wards. In a March report, city staff recommended the pilot be made permanent and more parks be added to the list of those where drinking is legal.

"Pilot feedback showed a high level of satisfaction among residents and park visitors, with few issues arising and minimal operational impacts," the city said in a news release Thursday.

More than 90 per cent of people who visited a pilot park and responded to the city's online survey about their experience said they were satisfied, according to staff.

"The city will continue to monitor the alcohol in park locations, with a commitment to addressing issues that may arise and prioritizing investigations into matters that may pose risks to public use," the release said.

Some councillors opposed to the new policy cited health and safety concerns related to drinking alcohol, while others said it may divert business from bars and pubs still struggling to recover from the COVID pandemic.

In a statement, Mayor Olivia Chow said responsible people should be allowed to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine in the city's parks.

"We are taking a strategic and measured approach to implementing this program throughout the city and are drawing from the experiences of other Canadian municipalities," Chow said.