No drinking in Toronto’s public parks this summer: city committee kills proposal
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Saying “we are not the city of ‘no,’” but the city of not right now, Coun. Michael Thompson and a Toronto committee have killed the idea of a pilot project that would have allowed legal drinking in parks this summer.
The economic and community development committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to refer a motion by Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12 Toronto-St. Paul’s) to city staff with no timeline, after those parks and licensing staff expressed concerns about enforcement and available resources. The move effectively kills the motion.
The city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, also weighed in at the meeting, saying she was concerned about encouraging public gathering with non-household members during a pandemic, as well as adherence to social distancing, masking and other measures while intoxicated.
The decision was met with immediate scorn from local residents online, along with public health experts.
“This is a really disappointing decision,” tweeted infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. “Temporarily allowing alcohol consumption in parks is such a simple harm reduction approach. Why not allow it until community #COVID19 rates decline?”
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at McMaster University, said the alternative options residents might choose could be dangerous to public health.
“The counterfactual of people having a drink outside safely is people having a drink indoors,” he tweeted. “When many Canadians are partially vaccinated, they’re going to look to what they can do normally. We need to create spaces for low-risk stuff.”
Coun. Joe Cressy, who chairs the city’s board of health and is a member of the committee, said Tuesday he believes the policy around public drinking should be reconsidered, but not in the way presented.
“It should not be written up as a prescriptive motion dropped onto the floor without any consultation,” Cressy said ahead of the vote. “This has not been done in a collaborative or consultative or thoughtful manner.”
Matlow’s motion asked the committee to allow public consumption of alcohol at city parks and beaches that have bathroom facilities between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. starting May 21 and ending Oct. 31. The pilot, as proposed, would only allow beverages that are 15 per cent alcohol by volume and below — largely limiting legal drinks to beer, cider and wine.
Rules around public intoxication, noise and more would remain in place.
Giuliana Carbone, the deputy city manager, said Tuesday that council would likely want a “proper assessment and evaluation.”
“I think all we’re saying right now is this is not an appropriate time. We’re focused right now on managing COVID … it would be a significant undertaking and resource requirement right now to do that analysis for council.”
De Villa told the committee that Toronto Public Health continues to try to limit public interactions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that they have concerns about things that promote interactions between people who don’t live together.
“When alcohol becomes part of the picture, we know people become disinhibited and they are less able and less likely to adhere to self-protection measures,” she said.
Coun. James Pasternak (Ward 6 York Centre), who does not sit on the committee, called the motion a “terrible” idea and “gross violation of public health advice.”
“When I saw this motion coming, I was actually astounded,” he said. “The general public must be wondering what planet we’re on to have a city councillor, an elected official, bringing this forward.”
Thompson (Ward 21 Scarborough Centre), who chairs the committee as an appointee by Mayor John Tory, said he also disagreed with Matlow’s “approach.”
“I put this motion forward, not so that we are saying no to anything, because we are not the city of ‘no’,” he said. “We are the city of certainly possibilities and we are the city that is very creative. We need to take the appropriate time in order to address this particular issue.”
Matlow, speaking to his motion, said he “respectfully but strongly” disagreed with de Villa, citing support from the epidemiology community and other experts to provide safe outdoor options.