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Suns out, buds out: Calgarians ticketed for enjoying booze in city parks

A Calgary man said citizens are getting mixed messages from the city on enjoying the summer during the pandemic.

On July 28, during an especially sunny day in downtown Calgary, Curt Mah found a rocky outcropping at Sandy Beach public park in the community of Mission to enjoy the day with some friends.

The group adhered to cohort health restrictions, but decide to bring some booze.

A City of Calgary bylaw officer arrived on the scene unbeknownst to Mah. He received a public alcohol consumption ticket for $120.

Mah said the ticket, although justified, by the bylaw is a bit extreme given the current pandemic.

“As we’re getting written up, literally everyone on the beach was hiding their beers or putting out their joints or like kind of scrambling to cover things,” he said.

“So what are we doing? You’re coming to find people who are outside drinking on the hottest day of the year. During the pandemic when we’re not supposed to be going to bars.”

During several of the City of Calgary COVID-19 briefings, enforcement numbers for public consumption of alcohol often outstripped tickets for public health violations.

Allowing drinking in public parks

Last June, the City of Calgary was considering changing the bylaw to allow for public drinking in parks in documents calledLiquor in Parks-Stakeholder Report Back: What we Heard.’

The document outlines what would be changed about alcohol consumption parks.

On the City of Calgary website, the city cites concerns with public confusion, divided public opinion, and enforcement issues as support for not changing the bylaw in 2019.

Last year, Alberta began allowing the consumption of alcohol in day use picnic areas in select parks across the province. Alcohol could be consumed in these areas along with food. This was what was proposed in Calgary’s original pilot project, first reported by LiveWire in early 2019.

Calgary’s Fish Creek Park has two day-use areas where alcohol is allowed.

The city had talked about retooling the pilot project for this year. That didn’t happen. LiveWire has learned the pilot was put on hold because there was some fear that with more people out of work during COVID-19, or working from home, there could potentially be more people out in parks with booze. That presented additional problems.

Others agreed with Mah and said this is precisely the thing we need to help get Calgarians active and outdoors.

Relaxation on enforcement

Mah thinks the pandemic should have changed the way this bylaw is enforced. Officers should use more discretion with the bylaw.

“I hope for the city to be like ‘guys like, use common sense here’ from the bylaw team, or just allow drinking in parks,” he said.

“If they’re really thinking about, ‘does the punishment fit the crime?’ why is the city not saying, ‘Hey, we want you to be outside, just be responsible.'”

When asked, the city said no consumption bylaw is in the works.

“Alcohol consumption in City parks is prohibited without a permit and there is currently no pilot project happening,” read an email response from city media relations.

Mah is both confused and frustrated at the City of Calgary. It’s mixed messages he’s getting in how to properly handle COVID-19 and carry on with enjoying summer.

“It’s like, well then if you want to have a beer, you have to be in a house. Which is more dangerous? To have a house party or you have to be in a bar or nightclub, which people are telling us not to go to?” he said.

“So it’s a mixed message for sure, Like I’m not gonna get a ticket inside a bar but I might get coronavirus. Well how does this make sense?”