Alcohol consumption in public parks sparks disagreement in council

At this week’s Burnaby City Council meeting on April 15, a delegation from New Westminster and District Labour Council called for a national day of mourning for workers killed on the job. The delegation requested that council declare April 28 a national day of mourning for workers killed and injured at work.

The day would be marked with an event at Westminster Pier Park in New Westminster on Sun. April 28. Mayor Mike Hurley said he planned to attend the National Day of Mourning event. Delegates also requested that Burnaby Council observe a minute of silence during its meeting around that same date.

“We know prevention, like improving tower crane safety, is the most important action we can take,” delegate Karina Santiago said. In her presentation, she mentioned four measures to ensure workers are safe on the job:

The delegation also called on governments at all levels to remove barriers to workers joining unions and ensure all workers have the protections and rights that come with union membership.

“Strong unions make safe workplaces,” Santiago said.

Hurley expressed strong support for the proposal.

“I think you can rest assured that this council fully supports a day of mourning and always has stood up for workers’ rights and will continue to do so because workers are what make the economy. It’s not corporations, and it’s not big business; it’s workers who actually make those profits,” Hurley said, adding that all workers have the right to go home safely every day and to ensure they have not been exposed to toxic chemicals. “One thousand people died in 2022. That is unacceptable,” Hurley added.

After the presentation, Hurley called on all council members to stand in a moment of silence to honour those who died at work.

Heated debate erupts about alcohol in public parks

Carmen Gonzalez, deputy general manager of parks, recreation, and culture (PRC), and Rebecca Thandi, PRC director of strategic initiatives, gave the presentation about the city’s pilot program to allow responsible consumption of alcohol in Burnaby public parks. According to a council report, the pilot program took place from June to October 2023 and was limited to one park per quadrant. Consumption was subject to a 10-metre distance from amenities such as playgrounds.

The presenters said the PRC team reviewed the pilot program from November 2023 to February 2024, which involved analyzing the results of a public engagement survey. Forty-five residents responded to the survey, with 20% stating they had yet to visit any of the locations. Most respondents were between the ages of 35 and 44. The feedback included conversations about public drunkenness, additional garbage in the parks, and the need for third spaces.

Thandi said that although city staff placed comment cards at recreation facilities in addition to the online survey, there has been a lack of public response to the program. In addition to the survey and comments, the city monitored RCMP calls regarding public drunkenness and noted no increase in complaints related to the pilot.

“The general lack of response, combined with the lack of complaints or issues identified by staff, is consistent with the experience many other municipalities have noted during similar pilot programs and leads staff to believe that the responsible consumption of alcohol in City parks is not a significant issue,” the council report said.

Burnaby is one of many municipalities in the Lower Mainland that have started a similar pilot program. Some municipalities have already made the bylaw permanent, while others are still undergoing the pilot. Richmond is the only municipality that has canceled the project due to increased complaints from the community.

Staff proposed four options to council:

Most council members welcomed the proposal and the project, but Coun. Sav Dhaliwal disagreed.

“Why would a government, any order of government, be encouraging substance use of any kind?” Dhaliwal said, adding that Fraser Health did not recommend this type of project. “This is not something that I believe that is a responsible thing for a government to do, to start saying, yes, this park welcomes drinking.”

Dhaliwal called for broader public engagement and consultation regarding the program and said more than 45 respondents were needed. He also noted that many people drive to and from these parks, such as Barnet Marine Park, where most visitors drive to the location.

“With anything that’s a legal substance, it doesn’t mean we have to allow it. It doesn’t mean we have to support it,” Dhaliwal said.

Coun. Richard Lee agreed with Dhaliwal, saying he thinks the city needs to conduct more public consultations before expanding the pilot. “I don’t know if the public are fully aware of this proposal.”

The original motion to expand the project was passed, with most council members approving it, while Dhaliwal and Lee opposed it.

Advocacy group Movement: Metro Vancouver Transit Riders also had a delegation at council, represented by volunteers Michelle Scarr and Spencer Powell. The delegates requested council support for the originally planned rapid bus routes connecting Metrotown and the North Shore.

“Today, we are asking the council to support the original proposed route along Hastings and Willingdon,” Scarr said. She added that a higher population density in Burnaby Heights and the Confederation Park area means bus routes would serve more people. In contrast, the new route serves the area around Boundary and First, which is more sparsely populated. Scarr added that bus-priority lanes may reduce accidents causing severe injuries and deaths.

“In addition to Movement, I also volunteer with Vision Zero Vancouver, an organization whose goal is to end traffic-related deaths and serious injuries,” said Scarr. “Burnaby’s Hastings is a horrifically dangerous street that took at least two lives last year, has taken many more before that and council, it is your responsibility to do something about it.”

Movement recently collected signatures in favour of the initially planned bus routes. They collected 965 signatures, most of them from Burnaby, 64.8% or 625 signatures.

“I believe that young families deserve frequent, safe transit. I think the employees who commute to and from the Heights deserve the same. With social housing being built, a connection to the rest of the region is essential. Folks without the means to own a car have every right to enjoy the Heights as a destination,” Powell said.

Other subjects discussed during the April 15 meeting included an update on the Burnaby District Energy Utility Project and a new contract award and funding for a new mural.

Lubna El Elaimy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burnaby Beacon