Park drinks could return this summer in Edmonton, if council agrees

The city should allow people to drink in public parks again this summer and in more locations after last year’s pilot project, the councillor who started the initiative said Thursday. 

Jon Dziadyk, former Ward 3 councillor, thinks the city should broaden the options for drinking alcohol at city parks, after a trial run from May 28 to Oct. 11, 2021. 

The city allowed park-goers to drink at 47 designated picnic sites at seven parks over a five-month period. 

“I think that the pilot project was a complete success,” Dziadyk said Thursday. “The general public and city council was surprised at the level of tolerance that people had for this project.”

No longer a city councillor, Dziadyk hopes the current council will agree to extend the initiative. 

The findings from the pilot project are outlined in a report posted on the city’s website Thursday. 

Council’s community and public services committee is scheduled to discuss the findings at a meeting on Jan. 31. After that, city council would have to vote on extending the pilot or creating a bylaw to make alcohol consumption in parks more permanent. 

Within a three-month window, peace officers inspected the sites and reported 2,450 violations: about 1,900 were related to people drinking in non-designated areas and more than 500 were related to other activities, including littering, off-leash pets, cannabis use and people exceeding public gathering limits under provincial public health orders. 

The findings include results of a survey done in November showing half the respondents had a positive experience.

The survey got 3,868 responses. 

Among the survey respondents, 50 per cent would like the program expanded, while nearly 20 per cent prefer the city ban all alcohol consumption banned at parks. 

Confusing rules

Jo-Anne Wright, councillor for Ward Sspomitapi, said parts of the pilot were confusing, such as the locations where people were allowed to consume. 

Peace officers gave out 245 warnings to people assigned to designated sites but found drinking outside that site or after 9 p.m. 

“There was confusion from the public or by the public on where they could drink within the park,” Wright said. 

If council favours expanding the pilot or creating a bylaw to allow alcohol in parks permanently, she thinks it should be simplified. 

“Rather than designating spots within the park, just ‘this park is allowed the alcohol consumption, so then you’re not having to fight with those wanting to consume and those not wanting to consume.” 

Wright said she’s reserving her opinion on whether the city should extend or expand the pilot or greenlight alcohol consumption in all parks. 

She’s concerned in a few areas — safety and cost — and wants to hear from the city’s community services advisory board, which offers advice on social policy, arts, culture, parks and  recreation. 

“Whether safety issues really need to be brought to light more than just someone’s ability to have a glass of wine.” 

Wright said councillors need to discuss the issues of public drunkenness and disorder, and the potential impact on families. 

The report says employing two peace officers and their associated equipment to patrol the parks is estimated to cost $350,000.  

Wright acknowledged the officers don’t have to be used exclusively to monitor parks on alcohol consumption but in other ways around the city. 

@natashariebe

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