A few brews in the park OK this summer, Edmonton city council decides

·3 min read
City will designate 47 picnic areas in Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Whitemud, Hawrelak, Government House, Victoria, Gold Bar and Rundle parks for the summer.  (Peter Forest/Getty Images for Starz - image credit)
City will designate 47 picnic areas in Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Whitemud, Hawrelak, Government House, Victoria, Gold Bar and Rundle parks for the summer. (Peter Forest/Getty Images for Starz - image credit)

Alcoholic drinks will be permitted in select Edmonton parks this summer as the city tests whether people can drink outside responsibly.

City council approved a pilot project Monday that will make it legal for people to drink in 47 designated sites in seven parks in the river valley.

Starting May 28, picnic sites in Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Whitemud, William Hawrelak, Government House, Victoria, Gold Bar and Rundle parks will be identified as alcohol-friendly.

The pilot runs until Oct. 11, after which the city will present a report to council outlining the successes and failures of the test.

Coun. Jon Dziadyk suggested in January the city look into the option, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when people have limited options to socialize while physically distancing.

"For a city of a million people with a short summer, but a beautiful summer, I think this is one way to get out and enjoy parks," Dziadyk said before council voted on Monday.

In a city survey conducted in late February and early March, 71 per cent respondents supported consumption of alcohol in parks.

During the two-week survey, the city received 15,554 responses.

Coun. Tim Cartmell, Bev Esslinger and Tony Caterina voted against the measure.

"I'm really torn on this issue," Esslinger told fellow councillors, noting the results of the survey would normally prompt her to side with approving it.

Her brother was killed by a drunk driver, she said.

Ten years later, her brother's son was killed by a drunk driver in a parking lot. Another nephew was killed in a crosswalk with signals, Esslinger said.

"I would never want another family to go through what we went through."

Esslinger noted that doctors with Alberta Health Services say they are no health benefits to allowing alcohol consumption in parks.

During COVID-19, health experts are encouraging activities that don't involve alcohol, as the average consumption has gone up during the pandemic, she said.

Cartmell said he was torn about the vote, noting that criminal behaviour such as drug deals in parks go unchecked because there's a lack of enforcement.

He questioned whether the city should be endorsing consumption "with no way to correct the behaviour that comes out of that."

Coun. Ben Henderson said voting down the measure would punish people who would be moderate in their alcohol use.

"This is a situation where we are penalizing the vast majority of people who I think will be responsible about this for the few that won't," Henderson said.

The selected sites are furnished with picnic tables, barbecues or fire pits and garbage bins, the city said. The sites already receive daily service and align with existing peace officer patrols.

It's estimated to cost about $10,000 to put up signs in the designated areas and communicate the rules to the public, the city report said.

The Alberta government has allowed people to drink alcohol in provincial picnic sites since June 2020 under the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Amendment Act.

@natashariebe