Drinking Park

Should drinking be allowed in Toronto parks?

With spring in the air, it's time to revisit the most important of questions — should drinking be allowed in Toronto parks?

Nothing kills one's buzz quite like relaxing over a nice brew in the park, only to be rudely awakened from a semi-drunken stupor by an angry cop perched atop a frighteningly large steed. But that is what happens in Trinity Bellwoods and other parks around the city. It happens to the best of us, though most often to the more lackadaisical among us. Because drinking in public in Toronto is illegal, dear friends. But what about elsewhere? Is this a case of Toronto the Good or is park-drinking generally frowned upon in major cities?

Here, a look at how other cities compare to us on the public drink front:


Surprise! In the most major city of La Belle Province, it is perfectly legal to enjoy some beer or wine with a picnic in a public outdoor space. You can casually head to the depanneur and purchase drinks there til 11 p.m. (or much later, if you know where to go). The moral of the story is, French people are more civilized than the rest of us.

New York City

The city that never sleeps is, in some ways, just as prudish as TO when it comes to public consumption of booze. According to this lawyer, "drinking alcohol in public is the most frequently issued Criminal Court Summons in New York City." In 2010 alone, there were 140,000 of them issued. NYC Administrative Code 10-125 prescribes a $25 dollar fine for such reckless behaviour.


Perhaps surprisingly, there's not much tolerance for public drinking in beautiful B.C., either. Hippies roam the hills there smoking joints the size of a child's arm, and yet getting caught in the park with a beer could cost you $230.


Chicago is having a serious tantrum about people who want to enjoy a beer or two in the sunshine. Mayor Rahm Emanuel hates the very idea of it, so the fine for public drinking and urination (because those are absolutely related) could double to $1,000. And those who throw caution to the wind and urinate (haha) or drink in public anyway face the possibility of six months in jail if they skip an administrative hearing.


Seattle is also a horrible place to drink in public as far as legality is concerned. Having an outdoor beverage could cost you up to $1,000. Or at least, those are Washington State's laws.


In Toronto the Good, drinking in public can earn you a $125 fine under Ontario's Liquor License Act, which stipulates, "No person shall be in an intoxicated condition in a place to which the general public is invited or permitted access." Pretty hefty rules. There's also a bylaw under the municipal code:

"While in a park, no person shall consume, serve or sell alcoholic beverages unless in designated areas, authorized by permit, and with the approval of the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario." Something about the language here tells me that approval will not extend to the hoards of hipsters in dire need of places to drink for free.

I get that (though some of these laws date back to Prohibition) the reason they're still in place is to protect the public from disorderly, and potentially dangerous, behaviour. But whatever happened to 'innocent until proven guilty,' hmm? One should be allowed to drink in a dignified manner and fined only if he/she crosses the boundaries of propriety by behaving in such a way as to adversely impact others. Or maybe I mean ANARCHY!!. I'm not sure.

In short, this summer, you might want to check out these handy guides from Slate and Grub Street on how to get ripped in public without anyone noticing. Or, just pull the hobo look (and my own personal favourite) and paper bag it. Covert and classic.

Do you think we should be able to drink alcoholic beverages in parks in the city? Or would it just cause total bedlam? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by M E Faulkner in the blogTO Flickr pool

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