B.C. considers allowing booze in public

Municipalities, police forces asked for opinions on scenarios permitted under existing regulations

  • Mar. 19, 2016 5:00 a.m.

The provincial government is considering allowing booze in public. What do you think? Email us at edit@thenownewspaper.com

By Dan Fumano, The Province

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The B.C. government is seeking input from municipalities and police on a little-known — and never used — provision of B.C.’s current liquor laws, which allows local governments to designate public areas for open alcohol consumption.

On March 1, the government sent out a request for feedback (pdf), with a deadline of Friday, which outlines two possible scenarios in which public consumption of alcohol could be allowed.

The first would allow picnickers in public parks to consume booze, giving the example of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or some parks in Quebec. The second describes designated entertainment districts where liquor is permitted, citing examples in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Savannah, Ga.

B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licensing Act includes a provision, on the books since the 1970s, letting municipalities designate certain spaces within their jurisdictions “as a place where liquor may be consumed.” But, according to the B.C. government, there is no evidence that provision has been used.

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According to the consultation notice, the fact that this provision has gone unused for the last 40 years “may indicate a lack of interest in activating this ability on the part of municipalities or not knowing it exists.”

As the provincial Liquor Control and Licensing Branch prepares to update B.C.’s drinking regulations, a bulletin from the branch says, “we would like to hear what municipalities and police think of this provision.”

The Ministry of Small Business and Red-Tape Reduction, which is responsible for the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch consultation, could not say how many municipalities or police forces had submitted feedback, or if any expressed interest in using the provision.

Allowing drinking at parks and beaches could boost tourism, said Simon Pearson-Roach, owner of Picnix, a company that delivers gourmet picnics in Vancouver parks.

“It would be great for my business,” said Pearson-Roach. “But beyond that, we’re kind of always looked at as a ‘no fun city,’ and this would be a big, giant leap forward.”

The other scenario described in the government bulletin, allowing public drinking in a certain street, could also work in Vancouver, said a spokesman for Donnelly Group, which operates several bars in and around Vancouver’s Granville “entertainment district.”

Donnelly director of marketing Damon Holowchak said the idea of public drinking in an entertainment district, as well as other changes being proposed and discussed in B.C., “are just bringing our liquor laws into the 21st century.”

“If you look around at the rest of the world, things similar to this are not only happening, but have been happening for decades,” Holowchak said. “In Europe it’s not as restrictive, and I think it benefits everyone, including those of us in the hospitality industry, but more importantly, the consumer.”

The B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police did not submit feedback, but remains in touch with the government about the ongoing liquor policy review, said association president Les Sylven, Chief Constable of the Central Saanich Police.

Of course, British Columbians do enjoy the occasional tipple in parks and other public places, even though it’s currently illegal and can result in tickets and fines. One of Vancouver’s popular outdoor imbibing locations is Habitat Island, a man-made land mass in southeast False Creek better known, to many, as “Beer Island.”

But in the community around Beer Island, not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea of loosening up public drinking laws.

For many, especially those with kids, Beer Island is “not a very welcoming spot,” said Patsy McMillan, chair of the False Creek Residents Association.

The idea of further liberalizing public drinking laws, she said, is “a slippery slope in my opinion, and I don’t see the rationale.”

People have always discreetly “brown-bagged” booze in Vancouver’s parks, said McMillan, “But if you open it up to where you can do whatever you want, then I think it becomes a bigger issue, because some people don’t know how to stop at one glass of wine with their picnic.”

The consultation is part of the province’s “work to modernize liquor laws,” said a ministry spokesman, and the new Liquor Control and Licensing act is slated to come into force next year.

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