Can you consume alcohol in Ontario parks?

To the delight of business owners and consumers, provincial governments across Canada have been relaxing alcohol laws in an attempt to support hospitality industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Ontario, for example, we have seen the government allow restaurants to expand their patios and include alcohol in takeout and delivery orders. Thus far, however, our ability to consume alcohol in public spaces, such as parks and beaches, remains largely prohibited.

It may come as a surprise to many, but the provincial legislation needed to allow for the consumption of alcohol in public spaces is already in place. When the Ontario government underwent a liquor reform in 2019 – the same reform that allows us to now purchase alcohols in grocery stores – the Liquor Licence Act (the “Act”) was amended to allow for the consumption of alcohol in recreational areas. However, the Act also granted municipalities the option to opt out of this. Essentially, the Act let each municipality decide if or where they want to allow for the public possession of alcohol.

For the most part, Ontario cities have been resistant to allow it. In Toronto, for example, the bylaws under the Toronto Municipal Code largely prohibit alcohol consumption in parks. This has remained unchanged since before the liquor reform.

However, given COVID-19, it will be interesting to see if Ontario municipalities revisit their by-laws. Allowing for the consumption of alcohol in certain designated recreational spaces encourages social distancing, especially in cities such as Toronto where many residents do not have backyards to socialize in. The amendments would allow people to gather and drink in large outdoor spaces, instead of inside small residences where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is elevated.

In various cities outside of Ontario, such amendments are already under contemplation. The City of Vancouver is set to review a by-law amendment that would allow for the consumption of alcohol in designated parks and plazas. In Quebec, some cities now allow for drinking in parks if the alcohol is accompanied by a meal.

If you are curious about your own municipality’s regulations, visit their by-laws. It may be more common as the pandemic continues on to see amendments being made. As always, it is important that you drink responsibly. Even if your municipality does allow for the consumption of alcohol in recreational areas, you must abide by the public intoxication and social distancing rules.

Lauren Cullen
Written by

Lauren Cullen is an associate lawyer at McKenzie Lake Lawyers LLP in London, Ontario. She practices exclusively in personal injury litigation and is a member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA). Lauren completed her law degree at Western University in 2016 and subsequently articled at a top personal injury law firm in Toronto.