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May. 17, 2021 | Monday
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Drinking in parks was already illegal, town says in response to resident outcry
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Evan Saunders
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

Town councillors have come under pressure from residents over a new bylaw that says consuming alcohol in public parks is not allowed.

But councillors are baffled by the backlash because drinking in parks has always been illegal under provincial law, with some blaming mixed messaging from the premier as the cause of the public’s consternation. 

Residents seem to be interpreting the bylaw as creating a new condition that prevents alcohol consumption in municipal parks, but chief administrator Marnie Cluckie sought to set the record straight at Monday’s committee of the whole planning meeting. 

She noted Premier Doug Ford previously said the government would be changing that legislation, “but they always speak about how they are going to change it. It has not been changed.” 

What Cluckie is highlighting is the dissonance between the premier's claims and his legislative action, in this situation leading people to believe they can freely consume alcohol in public parks. While there has been lots of talk about making drinking legal in parks, it remains illegal. 

“People make assumptions that it is allowed, but it's not," Coun. Norm Arsenault said during an interview Tuesday. "Are people doing it? Of course they are. But just because people are doing it doesn’t make it legal.” 

“The premier has a tendency to go off a little bit, and those kind of comments, where he’s going to allow beer in the parks, I think he’s going to have a hard time getting that through.” 

But it was not just the legality of the situation that had councillors shaking their heads at the request. It was a matter of safety and common sense. 

Arsenault was specifically concerned with people driving to the park, having a few beers, and then driving home.  

“We’ve gotta use common sense. Take that stuff home. Have a nice glass of wine or a beer at home. If you’re going to the park, bring some ginger ale,” he said. 

“I gotta tell you, I’m not a teetotaller by any means, but I can’t imagine that we want to encourage people to start having wine or beer or liquor in our parks, and then get into their car and start driving. To me, that just doesn’t make any sense.” 

Arsenault noted that in 2019 in Ontario there were 94 deaths related to drinking and driving and well over 250 accidents in which people were injured. "So, I think it would be such a terrible message to send out. I don’t think we want to go down that road whatsoever.” 

He also raised the issue of responsibility.

At licensed establishments where alcohol consumption is permitted, hosts are legally responsible to make sure steps are taken to ensure safe consumption. If a bar patron causes an accident driving home drunk, the bar’s employees can be held responsible. If something bad happens after someone is drinking in a park, it could lead to serious litigation for the government.

“The drinking laws are totally abused,” Arsenault added. 

Councillors emphasized anyone who wants to see drinking allowed in public parks should complain to the provincial government, not the town. 

“We don’t have the authority to override provincial legislation,” Arsenault said. 

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said issues surrounding public consumption have not just been coming from individuals, but from wineries and breweries as well. Those industries are a big part of NOTL’s economy, so Disero wants to be sure they are made aware of any changes in legislation that affect their ability to operate responsibly. 

Coun. Clare Cameron also noted the municipal bylaw does not constitute a total ban on alcohol consumption in public parks. Residents and visitors can do so if they acquire a special event permit from the town. 

The new bylaw also restricts hours of operation and prohibits barbecuing in municipal parks.