It’s Time to Allow Liquor on Vancouver Beaches

Yesterday, a story was published on News1130 indicating that Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle is submitting a proposal to allow for liquor on Vancouver’s beaches. And I think that it’s about time we had change in this regard.

Councillor Boyle’s proposal is based in the importance of ensuring that people who want to have social drinks with friends are able to do so in a manner that protects them from the spread of COVID-19. As she sees it, the more people that live in apartments, the less opportunity for safe social distancing and alcohol consumption.

And, frankly, I agree. It is high time we eliminate this unnecessary ban.

It’s become clear that the city of Vancouver is in dire financial straits. And part of this includes an $8.5 Million cut to the Vancouver Police Department budget. That means fewer dollars for overtime, fewer officers, and less enforcement of offences that it costs money to enforce.

But we also know that enforcement in the summer months, Vancouver Police deploy officers on ATVs to patrol beaches, looking for people who are drinking and pouring out drinks. It’s rare that these officers ticket people for open liquor on the beach, except in unusual circumstances. So the enforcement of the law against liquor on beaches inevitably costs more money than it brings in. Purchasing ATVs, maintaining them, cleaning them, providing fuel, and deploying officers is not free.

And, of course, the tickets that are issued for this offence do not go into revenue for the City of Vancouver. Rather, the enforcement is of provisions of the Liquor Control Licensing Act.  This means that the revenue goes to General Revenue for the province. Effectively, Vancouver Police are paying to enforce a provincial law with no benefit to the City of Vancouver.

The money that the city is currently spending to enforce this law could better be used to address more pressing concerns that otherwise may fall by the wayside with an $8.5 Million budget cut. I’m thinking specifically of problems in the Downtown East Side and petty crime fuelled by drug addiction.  

Enforcing the Law

Someone on Twitter recently asked about whether the city of Vancouver can even make this call, given that it is provincial law. And the answer is a really complicated yes.

Police can exercise discretion in enforcing the law. And the city has the right to give some direction to police about how and where to exercise their discretion. For example, despite the fact that retail sales of cannabis were illegal for years, the City of Vancouver licensed and regulated cannabis dispensaries and Vancouver Police were directed not to participate in raids, except in special circumstances.

The same logic applies to enforcement of provincial offences, like consuming liquor on a beach. The city can direct Vancouver Police to not use resources to enforce this law, and to avoid issuing tickets for these offences except in unusual circumstances.  

The Problem of Impaired Driving

Another Twitter user recently responded to me to suggest that allowing liquor on beaches would lead to an increase in impaired driving, which would pose a public safety risk. I disagree.

The reality is that most adults behave responsibly. And, in any event, police already engage in enforcement of impaired driving around beaches during the summer months. Vancouver Police patrol the areas around beaches, particularly near sundown, and stop drivers who exhibit symptoms of impairment all the time. Since December, 2018, police have expanded powers to stop and test people, without even suspecting impaired driving.

It would not require an increase in existing resources to ask for police to enforce impaired driving laws. And, MADD Canada and other organizations routinely provide funding to police agencies for the specific purpose of impaired driving enforcement. If Vancouver Police want to increase DUI enforcement without spending their own money, applying for this funding would easily solve that problem.  

At the end of the day, we have to trust that adults in Vancouver can behave responsibly when it comes to drinking on the beach. And we’ve seen that most people in British Columbia can comply with the rules. This is demonstrated by the success we have seen in this province in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

If we can trust people to protect one another from the spread of disease, I think we can let them have a couple beers in a beach barbecue this summer.

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