When it comes to drinking in public, the Vancouver park board is at a crossroads.
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the park board has been toying with the idea of allowing Vancouverites to drink their own alcohol in outdoor, socially distanced public settings.
This idea developed into a proposed three-month pilot project, which would allow for the consumption of alcohol in some select public parks across the city.
The project initially envisioned public drinking in 10 parks. It's since been expanded to include pilot sites in every neighbourhood in the city.
However, the park board has been dragging its feet. Set to vote on July 6, commissioners postponed their decision to approve the project—or not—until tonight (July 27).
This means that—at the very earliest—the project would be implemented in mid-August, according to a staff report.
But this delay could frustrate the project entirely, rendering it absurd and a waste of taxpayer resources that would fund its implementation.
After all, the utility of a summer pilot project that runs into Vancouver’s notoriously rainy fall season is questionable at best. Determining the success of a project that requires people to be outdoors—spending social time in uncovered, unsheltered parks—when Vancouverites are swapping their sandals for rain boots is both ironic and illogical.
What’s more, the entire project was spurred by the state of emergency declared as a result of COVID-19. While bars and restaurants close or offer reduced services and seating, citizens have been encouraged to get outside and spend socially distanced time in small groups.
As things slowly return to normal, the need for a rapid response by the city will diminish and become less important.
For the most part, though, socially distanced outdoor gatherings have been a success.
Vancouverites are taking the lead on this; but it doesn’t take exceptional observational powers to notice that many are already partaking in public drinking, with or without any approval from the forces that be.
However, if the park board wants to give official approval to our de facto reality, delays won’t be the only roadblock; there is also a great deal of administrative red tape to wade through.
Bylaws will be the first of these. With many municipal and provincial bylaws related to the sale and consumption of alcohol, practicality and enforcement may become problematic in unregulated outdoor settings.
For example, there is a bylaw that requires liquor to be consumed with a meal. This would mean that parkgoers would have to pair their beers with a burger or a bag of chips.
But what constitutes a meal, and who would decide? Do we really want park rangers and police officers peering into our picnic baskets and trying to work out a timeline of when we last had a snack?
This bylaw might make sense for restaurants, pubs and bars...but when we try to take it outdoors, it veers into the absurd.
There’s also a small legislative problem.
After all, alcohol is governed by the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Act. Under this Act, the Vancouver park board has no control or power over decisions related to alcohol. Technically speaking, it cannot make laws related to it.
Although there is some indication that the board is working to have the act amended in order to move forward, we all know how slowly these types of changes can come into effect.
Finally, there is some question as to why the park board is restricting its considerations to alcohol. By failing to also consider the public consumption of another legal substance—namely, cannabis—the park board could be creating a stigmatizing double standard.
And those concerned with the distinctive smell associated with smoking cannabis flower should consider the fact that low-odour vaporizers, edibles, and other methods of consumption also exist.
But it may all be for nothing. If the project isn’t approved at tonight's park board meeting, it may never get off the ground.