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Vancouver protest seeks to change restrictions on alcohol in public

Colleen MacDonald holds her granddaughter Ione, and a can of beer during an event organized by the group Campaign for Real Ale Society (CAMRA) B.C. at English Bay Beach, in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday August 27, 2017. CAMRA held a protest where they consumed alcohol on the beach to highlight their belief that the responsible consumption of alcohol should be allowed in designated public spaces like in other jurisdictions in Canada.

DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

On the beach at Vancouver's English Bay, the choppy waters sparkling under the noon sun, Robyn Pekar and Jackie Hoffart sat on a blanket with a newspaper and a couple cans of beer.

The couple have recently been part of the city's annual Dyke March and also attended rallies for Black Lives Matter. On this Sunday, however, Ms. Pekar and Ms. Hoffart sat as part of a small protest of several dozen people to bring attention to Vancouver's, and Canada's, long-standing restrictions on drinking alcohol in public places such as beaches and parks.

"In the context of other things, this isn't the most critical," Ms. Hoffart said with a laugh. "But this is destigmatizing what people are normally doing." Her partner, Ms. Pekar, helped organize the event. Holding a can of Brassneck, a local brewer, she said: "We're making it more of a public issue, bringing more attention to it."

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British Columbia, in the past several years under the former Liberal provincial government, attempted to loosen laws around alcohol. The rules were described by the Liberals as "antiquated." While some people thought this might lead to the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores, and being allowed to drink a beer on the beach without risking a fine of several hundred dollars, the final changes were modest.

Two of the top adjustments highlighted by the Liberals in January were allowing businesses, such as barbershops or book stores, to get a liquor licence, and hotels to give a free drink to guests and allow customers at hotel bars to carry a drink to their rooms.

The small changes highlight the conservatism to update such laws. The situation in B.C. is the same across most of Canada. The low odds of legally having a drink in a Toronto park was laughed at in an April Fool's story this year on a widely read Toronto blog – the story said the city planned a pilot project that would allow drinking in several parks this summer, including the sale of local beers.

Restrictions on beer or wine in a park during the day exist as cities allow the mass consumption of alcohol at night in certain downtown areas.

On Sunday at English Bay, a group called the Campaign for Real Ale wanted to show that a beer on the beach can be a quiet affair. A Vancouver Police Department spokesman confirmed the small protest did not attract the attention of officers.

"This is meant to start a conversation," said David Perry, president of the group's local chapter, whose membership is about 1,300. "This is what people want."

Vancouver could be on the edge of change, perhaps similar to the 1990s and early 2000s, when the city was more liberal about marijuana than elsewhere.

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The city's park board, which has unusual independent jurisdiction over beaches and parks, is looking at the overhaul of its concessions. The idea is to offer local food and the possible sale of beer and wine for consumption at tables around the concessions.

Michael Wiebe, the park board chair who is a local restaurateur and Green Party member, said public space around the concessions are vastly underused, such as at Third Beach, with its remarkable views, or likewise at Spanish Banks.

"We have some of the best patios in the city," Mr. Wiebe said.

A survey conducted by the park board that focused on food at concessions found strong support for beer and wine at these sites.

One challenge is to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere, Mr. Wiebe said. Another issue is to prohibit glass bottles. But as a lifeguard over the years on beaches in Vancouver, Mr. Wiebe said the real issue is to craft a solution that recognizes reality.

"As a former lifeguard, I talked to people every single day who had beverages on the beach," Mr. Wiebe said. "Other cities around the world have done it. We know it's happening on our beaches. How do we make it safe for everyone?"

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According to B.C.'s Attorney-General's office, one loosening of the alcohol rules from earlier this year lets cities and bodies such as the park board enact a bylaw that permits public drinking. An example is a portion of English Bay, where drinking is allowed from 11 a.m. to sunset.

There had been a previous B.C. rule that first required approval of a provincial official and no local government acted on it.

Ms. Hoffart, sitting on the beach on Sunday, spent time as a teenager and in her early 20s in Germany, where public drinking is condoned.

To her, "It's not complicated."

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About the Author
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

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