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Kitchener council defers decision to allow alcohol in city parks

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Kitchener city council has decided to defer a decision regarding alcohol consumption in city parks.

During a meeting on Monday, councillors voted in favour of deferring a pilot program that would allow alcohol use in some parks due to concerns about capacity, public health and safety, monitoring and enforcement capabilities.

The city will be working with Waterloo Regional Police Services (WRPS) to continue looking at options for a potential future project.

In December, council directed city staff to look into the proposed project which would have run from June 1 to the Labour Day weekend.

Jason Deneault, the councillor behind the motion, previously told CTV News that it could be an economic driver for the city and encourage more people to get together and host small events in Victoria Park.

RELATED: City installs new cameras in Victoria Park to track how busy it is

Staff recommendation

The report, from city staff, recommend deferring the pilot project.

They specifically cite the expansion of alcohol sales in Ontario and apprehension from Waterloo Regional Police about public health and safety, as well as the ability of officers to adequately monitor and enforce the rules.

City staff suggest revisiting the proposal once further information is collected.

Response from WRPS

In a statement to CTV News, Waterloo Regional Police expressed concern that the pilot project could result in more criminal activity and disturbances, especially involving youth.

“Region-wide, alcohol-related offences continue to strain WRPS resources while compromising public safety – this includes a 19 per cent increase in impaired driving charges in the region in 2023,” a spokesperson said. “Further, WRPS has concerns about the consequences related to an increase in WRPS and City of Kitchener bylaw response and enforcement. Significant WRPS resources are already devoted to responding to alcohol and crowd-related issues in public areas across the region.”

Police explained there were 5,366 calls for service in Victoria Park between 2021 and 2023.

They added that they’re willing to work with the city and community partners on the development and implementation of “collaborative solutions.”

Toronto’s pilot project

Toronto launched a similar pilot project in 2023, in which residents were allowed to crack open a cold one in any of the city’s 27 parks between Aug. 2 and Oct. 9. It was so successful the city decided to extend the program until March 2024.

A report was later presented to council which showed that it "was implemented with a high level of satisfaction among park visitors, [with] few issues arising and minimal operational impacts."

Toronto decided to make the pilot program permanent in some of its city parks in April 2024.

Experts weigh in

According to experts in alcohol research, legalizing public drinking has proven to be successful in other communities.

“Most of the cities that have introduced it, following models in other cities and other countries, have found that it’s rarely problematic,” explained Dan Malleck, chair of the department of health sciences at Brock University. “When you’re in the public view, we tend to kind of control ourselves. It might be that it makes [public drinking] a little safer. It certainly removes some stigma so people aren’t feeling that they need to hide it.”

Malleck added that waiting to see how the grocery and convenience store alcohol expansion plays out does make sense politically.

“I’m not normally an advocate of such a gradualist approach, but when it comes to booze maybe we just hold off on one until we let the public get used to the other,” he said.

Andy Hathaway, a sociology professor at the University of Guelph, said it’s something people will likely do anyway.

“If everything goes as one would expect, then there should be nothing to worry about,” he said. “Some might be responsible, and some might be anticipated not to be responsible. It makes you wonder what would be the target citizenry that the city would be hoping to attract by something like that.”

  

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