A Step Towards legal Public Drinking

by Al Drinkle

As you may already know, the City of Calgary is discussing the launch of a pilot project which would allow the consumption of alcohol in designated sites within city parks. Public feedback is encouraged and you can voice your support or concerns here. It won't surprise you that I have strong opinions about this.

First, I have to remind myself that this is merely the first step towards what could be a rational amendment to our municipal bylaws. But certain factions involved whose perpetual incomprehension of how autonomous, civilized individuals make decisions seem to want to take the fun out of the possibilities before the fun even begins. An example of this is that drinking would only be allowed at particular picnic tables, and another is the repeated stipulation that if these designated areas are assigned, guests of the park may only imbibe in liquor if they are eating! Obviously this parallels the existing rule that certain licensed establishments must also make food available to patrons, but I think that one of the reasons that there is a legal drinking age is so that thirsty adults can make their own choices regarding whether or not they're hungry as well.

I can visualize the scenario; it's July in Prince's Island Park and I'm languidly enjoying a glass of wine on a bench by the river, should we be so lucky that such a bench be deemed worthy of a liquor-in-parks pilot project. I'm keeping to myself and once my Manzanilla is finished, I plan to take a leisurely stroll homewards. But without warning, a Peace Officer springs forth from the shrubbery, accusing me of breaching the tenets of the liquor consumption bylaws by consuming alcohol without food. What might she accept as a reasonable answer? Could I tell her that she just missed me eating a sandwich and that the dregs of my glass outlasted my lunch by a few drops? Given the sprawling definition of food, could I voice that I'm adhering to a somewhat unorthodox diet of grasses, poplar bark and pebbles, and point of that she’s stepping on my lunch? If I had a breathmint, would that suffice as the “food” that the bylaw insists must accompany my liquor?

Should the denizens of Calgary be allowed to consume alcohol in public parks? Absolutely, just as they should be allowed to consume alcohol on sidewalks, riverfronts, hiking trails, tailgates, community skating rinks and off-leash areas. Why not? There are a multitude of other bylaws in place to ensure that such imbibing doesn't lead to disruptive or dangerous behavior, and if the consumption of alcohol itself is permitted, then why are we so worried about where it transpires? This has confused me ever since I received my inaugural fine for drinking in public as a teenager. In regards to the potential for social disruption, what is the difference between two friends sharing a bottle of wine at home and then going to a park, or just drinking the bottle of wine in the park to begin with?

In their online questionnaire, the City puts forth several concerns that voters may click upon in regards to the potential consequences of allowing liquor consumption in public parks. Let's address each of these individually:

1. An increase in disorderly behavior may occur

Like all cities, Calgary is full of idiots and there's no denying that alcohol and stupidity can be an incendiary combination. But let's keep in mind that we're not discussing whether or not people can drink, but where they're allowed to imbibe, and there's no difference between people who are prone to disorderly behavior when intoxicated achieving this unsavory state in a park, or spilling out of a restaurant, hockey game or their homes in a drunken state and then polluting city parks or other public places with their delinquency. That’s why there are public intoxication bylaws! Similarly, the civilized among us would continue to consume alcohol in a civilized fashion, regardless of where we're allowed to do so. It's probably safe to say that most of the city's problematic drinkers are already consuming alcohol wherever they choose, as are a significant proportion of Calgary's responsible drinkers. The problem is drunk morons, not where morons become drunk.

2. Children would be exposed to liquor use

Yes, if drinking were permitted in public parks, inevitably children would see people drinking there - just as they currently see people drinking in restaurants. There are lots of things that children aren't allowed to do, like driving or getting married, and the fact that adults do these things in public places doesn't increase the risks of children following suit. There are important laws in place that prohibit minors from engaging with alcohol and I can only presume that witnessing adults drinking wine in parks wouldn't fray this particular piece of our legally enforced moral fabric. If children were to observe my wife and I drinking wine in a city park, they would probably consider it to be the most innocuous and boring activity conceivable - regardless of how much enjoyment I may be getting out of my Chinon.

3. There may be safety concerns and an increase in the City's liability

See point 1.

4. Drinking and driving

Driving while intoxicated is one of the most abhorrent and irresponsible acts that somebody can engage in and any possible excuse for practicing it is not just feeble, but morally reprehensible... and illegal. Thankfully most people abide this all-important law, and those who do wouldn't arbitrarily engage in drunk driving just because they're leaving a park as opposed to a restaurant, a bar, a party or a sports event.

5. Drinking before floating down the rivers

While this doesn't have quite the same moral ramifications as drinking and driving, we can write it off for the same reason. It's already illegal to use Calgary's waterways while intoxicated and those who are inclined to obey this law won't forego their good reasons for doing so even if there's more flexibility as to where they're allowed to drink liquor prior to floating.

6. Damage to the park/environment

See point 1.

7. Not reflective of my religion or culture

I respect that one's religion or culture might prohibit them from engaging in any number of things that our laws and regulations allow. There are those who choose not to eat meat for these reasons, and others who don't operate motor vehicles on certain days of the week. But in a delightfully tolerant and multicultural city like ours, members of the former group must be accepting of a stranger eating a hot dog from a street vendor in their vicinity, just as those of the latter camp might have to endure the sound of traffic going by while observing their own religious abstinence. If consuming alcohol in a park isn't reflective of someone's religion or culture, I would highly encourage them to proudly and stalwartly abstain from drinking in parks. It just so happens that enjoying wine in beautiful places is highly reflective of my culture, and it's convenient that this aspect of my culture can be easily practiced without adverse consequences for anybody else.

8. Other concerns

My greatest concern would be to run out of Riesling on a sunny day at the park... perhaps the City should issue licences for Metrovino booths for each pilot project?

We are honoured to continue to be your informed provider of refreshing outdoor sips which you have always consumed safely and responsibly... hopefully this year you can do it legally too! You've got until January 31st to voice your opinion: Legal Public Drinking