Expert Q&A on drinking in parks and beaches

​Many municipalities in BC and other parts of Canada are allowing, or considering, drinking in parks and on beaches. Credit: pixabay

As we enter our second summer under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and communities look for ways to allow safe social interactions, many Canadian municipalities are considering—or, like Penticton and Edmonton have already allowed—alcohol consumption in public spaces like parks, beaches and city plazas. This week, Vancouver launched its own alcohol in parks pilot.

While a beer at the beach may sound like a nice idea for some, allowing drinking in these spaces may not only change their atmosphere but also be bad for public health in the long run. Researchers at UVic’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), led by director Dr. Tim Naimi, have created Not Just a Walk in the Park: Unsupervised Alcohol Consumption on Municipal Properties in BC, an evidence-based, public-health-oriented guide for municipalities as they consider allowing drinking in public outdoor spaces.

Q: Why isn’t it a good idea to allow drinking in public spaces like parks and beaches?

A: Because there are significant public-health considerations to consider. As we know, alcohol can have significant negative health effects and is responsible, even at low levels, for a wide range of diseases, including several types of cancer. And the second-hand effects of alcohol, including violence that arises from other peoples’ drinking, are especially common when it comes to drinking in public.

It also creates more of a sense of “normalization,” that we should be consuming alcohol everywhere all the time. Moreover, municipalities, which have been burdened by many stresses during COVID, will be further taxed by having to enforce or monitor drinking in public places, picking up alcohol-related trash in parks and beaches, and possibly experiencing legal liability for harms related to people becoming intoxicated on their property.

Q: One of the main arguments for allowing this is that the hospitality industry has really suffered during COVID and this could give them a boost. How will allowing alcohol consumption in these kinds of public spaces help restaurants and pubs?

A: It’s important to remember that many sectors of the alcohol industry, like alcohol producers and liquor stores, have actually prospered during the pandemic. But for other sectors like hospitality-based businesses including restaurants and pubs, allowing drinking in public spaces could hurt, not help, them recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. That’s because people who want to drink outside their homes could now purchase the cheaper alcohol from liquor stores and just drink in municipal spaces instead of patronizing restaurants and pubs, which would further divert business away from them.

Q: Why is it important to provide this guidance on drinking in public municipal spaces now?

A: There’s been a sense of urgency to make things better for people in response to the pandemic. I think allowing alcohol consumption in public spaces like parks, beaches and city plazas is a well-intentioned but misguided effort to do that. We should remember the COVID-19 pandemic will hopefully be ending soon, and the decisions that we rush into now may become permanent fixtures in our social landscape—and will not necessarily change them for the better when it comes to community health outcomes.

Q: What recommendations do you have for municipalities considering allowing drinking in parks and beaches?

We recommend they don’t permit it. The evidence says this isn’t a good idea for public health and wellbeing. But if they do decide to go that route, or if they already have permitted drinking in public municipal spaces and want to strengthen their policies, we have several recommendations. The primary one is to keep these initiatives temporary and/or seasonal rather than permanent. Other recommendations include: keeping drinking to restricted times of day and areas within the municipal property; making sure governments engage with their citizens from all walks of life before, during and after authorizing it; and getting legal advice about their municipal liability. We also recommend municipalities encourage people to purchase food and alcohol from nearby restaurants, pubs and food trucks, and increase budgets for extra costs incurred by governments such as for bylaw enforcement or trash pickup.

This research was supported by the Government of BC.


Media contacts

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or

Amanda Farrell-Low (CISUR Communications Officer) at 250-472-5445 or

Tim Naimi (CISUR/Public Health and Social Policy) at 250-472-5445 or

In this story

Keywords: CISUR, PHSP, HSD, health, drugs, alcohol, COVID

People: Timothy Naimi

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