Toronto should allow drinking in select parks on permanent basis, report suggests

Drinking in parks across select Toronto areas should be allowed on a permanent basis, according to a new report released on Thursday by the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff.

The decision came after a pilot program approved last summer that allowed people aged 19 and older to drink alcoholic beverages at 27 public parks, between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and 12:00 a.m., daily, from Aug. 2 to Oct. 9 (the program has been extended until March 31 of this year).

According to the report, more than a third of Torontonians (35%) who responded to an online Park Experience Survey said they visited a pilot park, with the vast majority (92%) reporting that they were satisfied with their visit.

Concerns anticipated by Torontonians before the pilot, such as increased disruptive behaviour and litter, largely did not materialize at the pilot parks. The report suggests that there were few increases in 311 service requests for noise, behaviour, and garbage/recycling bins at pilot parks, with no increased need for police response at the vast majority of parks. Hospital emergency department visits due to alcohol were also comparable to the preceding year (2022).

The number of business respondents to the survey was low (48) in comparison to the overall number of survey respondents (about 9,677); satisfaction among business owners was only at 72%, about 20% lower than the satisfaction of park visitors.

The issue has led to debates across social media:

The report recommends that certain criteria be followed for any additional park to be designated for personal alcohol consumption, such as the parking having a permanent or temporary washroom and a seasonal drinking hole on site. Park sizes should be at least 1.5 hectares and should not be adjacent to schools if smaller than 3.0 hectares. It can’t be situated on the waterfront, and the option must be approved by the local councillor, with written confirmation.

As for restrictions—the report advises that no alcohol consumption be allowed at outdoor swimming pools and decks or within two metres around playgrounds, wading pools, splash pads, skateboard parks, BMX parks, and artificial and natural ice rinks.

The report advises that the city “continue to monitor and evaluate alcohol in parks, ensuring that each Councillor receives a regular update about any issues emerging in their respective wards, and provide a status report back” to the committee in 2025.