Canada

Saskatchewan’s opposition blocks bill to allow drinking in parks

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REGINA — Saskatchewan’s Opposition has blocked a government bill that would allow residents to enjoy a beer or glass of wine in city parks, despite announcing support for such change last summer.

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NDP Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer says people in Saskatchewan have addiction issues and more consultation is needed.

“We’re in an addictions crisis in Saskatchewan and we need to keep that in light of this dialogue we’re having,” Sarauer said Monday as the NDP announced it would not be supporting the bill.

A harm reduction advocate said parks can serve as safe consumption sites for alcohol if regulated properly, and tying such a proposal to alcoholism perpetuates the stigma against those with use disorders.

“To suggest that someone is going to become (more deeply) invested in alcohol by allowing alcohol consumption more liberally in a park, it just tells us how much we don’t know about substance use disorder,” said Marie Agiortis with Moms Stop The Harm in Saskatoon.

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Agiortis said bars and beer gardens at summer festivals already act as safe consumption sites for alcohol.

“It needs to be well regulated and well enforced if they’re going to allow it, and that’s where we need to focus,” she said.

“And that’s also part of the stigma: (people) think that we’re all running around and shaking champagne bottles at each other and spraying it and offering vodka to the kids.”

Minister Jim Reiter, who is responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, said the bill would have allowed municipalities to collaborate with the authority to make their own rules around public drinking.

That would include ensuring there are bathrooms and security.

“There’s people who are in apartments or condos that don’t have easy access to their own green space. Those of us who have a backyard want to barbecue and have a beer or a glass of wine. Not everybody has that opportunity,” Reiter said Monday. “So the discussion was more about those folks.”

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He said he was disappointed the bill didn’t pass unanimously, but plans to reintroduce it in the fall.

City councillors in Regina and Saskatoon said they would have liked to see the bill pass.

“I don’t like drawing things out if we’re going to go ahead with it. If it was up to me, we’d have this all sorted out and ready for the summer,” Regina Coun. Andrew Stevens said Tuesday.

He said he doesn’t see the harm in cracking a beer at a picnic and has before brought bottle of wine to the park with his wife to celebrate an anniversary.

He doesn’t believe it would encourage rowdy behaviour.

“Being drunk in public is still an offence. So having a beer … is very different than having a kegger,” he said.

“Maybe we’re concerned about change, but let’s just realize that if you leave … North America, you’re going to find a place where this is just the norm.”

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Drinking in parks is common in European cities like Berlin and London.

Coun. Cynthia Block of Saskatoon said Tuesday she envisioned a European-type setting for her city — “a baguette with a glass of wine type of environment.”

She brought forward a motion last December that led the Saskatchewan Party government to propose the change.

Block said without the bill passing, municipalities can’t even have the discussion about having a drink publicly.

She said she would have at least liked the opportunity to explore it as a pilot project in Saskatoon, similar to ones in Calgary and Edmonton, where people can book a picnic table to have a drink, “especially based on the last two years where everyone’s been either stuck indoors or really wanting to have opportunities to do things outdoors, because it’s an environment where people feel more safe.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

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