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Vancouver park board to consider allowing adults to legally drink booze in parks again this summer

Park board commissioner requests extension of last summer’s experiment at 22 parks
Park board commissioner Dave Demers wants last summer’s experiment allowing adults to legally consume alcohol in 22 parks, including John Hendry Park at Trout Lake, to be extended this year.

A Vancouver park board commissioner wants adults to again be able to legally drink alcohol this summer in some of the city’s parks.

Dave Demers has drafted a motion that goes before the board Monday (Feb. 7) night that calls for last year’s experiment in 22 parks to continue this year, with an eye on allowing it to become permanent and year-round.

“In a nutshell, it went super well last year and it went exactly as I was expecting — people liked it,” he said, referencing a staff report from December 2021 that largely highlighted the experiment’s success.

The experiment, or pilot project, ran from July 12 to October 11 in designated sections of parks that included Stanley Park, David Lam Park, Kitsilano Beach Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, John Hendry Park at Trout Lake and New Brighton Park.

While most people the park board surveyed said they supported the initiative, Demers noted there is room for improvement. His motion requests staff consider “lessons learned” from last summer and to address such issues as poor signage and lack of recycling bins at drinking sites.

At the same time, Demers said he wants staff to look beyond an extension of the experiment.

“How could we do something permanent — and what could that look like?” he said. “We'll see what they say. But I foresee this as just generalized across the system, without those boundaries that are imposed on certain parks.”

As staff noted in its report, not everyone respected the designated boundaries in the 22 parks.

There was an increase in litter, including more empty alcohol containers, and some neighbours complained of noisy, obnoxious people creating a nuisance.

Overall, 86 per cent of respondents to a survey supported the experiment while the level of support from people who work or live near one of the designated parks was mixed — split roughly 50 per cent.

Data tracked by the Vancouver Police Department showed no increases in the number of alcohol-related calls, according to the staff report.

Vancouver Coastal Health also reported no significant difference in the average number of alcohol-related visits to hospital emergency departments per week.

Demers said the intent of his push to allow adults to legally drink alcohol in parks was based on people being able to enjoy a beer or glass of wine with friends or family at a picnic. It was never done to encourage more alcohol-fueled mayhem.

Top benefits cited by respondents was more opportunity to enjoy take-out, picnics and food with a drink and more opportunity to connect with friends and family.

Others without access to a yard or patio cited the advantage to legally drink in a park on a nice day.

While 41 per cent of people surveyed said allowing alcohol in parks made their last visit more enjoyable, 34 per cent said the opposite.

When asked what services or features would have made their experience more enjoyable, the most common themes were:

• More garbage and recycling totes, and litter pick-up.

• Clarifying drinking area boundaries or improving the locations in relation to other park features.

• More enforcement, monitoring or regulation.

Controversy over why one park was picked over another was also an issue, with not everyone able to have the same privileges at their local park, although it is a known fact that people have illegally consumed alcohol in parks for decades.

There was also a 300-signature petition against drinking near ecologically sensitive areas at Vanier, Kits Beach, Locarno, and Volunteer parks.

Demers doesn’t request a timeframe for staff to report back on when or if an extension of last year’s initiative could go ahead. But he said he wants the extension to happen sooner than later, noting the weather was nice Monday.

“Whenever picnic season starts — I mean today is a picnic day,” he said. “I don’t think we need to make this seasonal. Who are we to dictate when picnics can be had?”

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