Hamilton mulls allowing alcohol in parks, after finding out people were wrongly fined

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Published May 16, 2022 at 8:31 pm

Gage Park in Hamilton.

Were you fined for drinking in a city park in Hamilton? Then you are entitled to a refund.

On Monday, Hamilton city councillors on the public works committee were told that local bylaw officers have not had the power to issue liquor-related charges in parks since 2005. While the city plans to refund people who paid up, staff at environmental services division would like to restore that authority. However, staff’s discovery during what acting environmental services manager Cynthia Graham called a “housekeeping” exercise did lead to debate about whether Hamilton should be more liberal about libations in public spaces.


Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko moved a motion directing city staff report back with best practices for the regulation of alcohol in Hamilton parks. It passed by a 7-1 vote.

“Just wondering if this might be an opportunity to reconsider the bylaws we have around alcohol in our parks,” Danko said. “We have a number of municipalities who are looking at ways of making an option. Could this be an opportunity to do the same?

Both Danko and Ward 12 Coun. Lloyd Ferguson noted that Hamilton residents are likely doing so already. Danko said he has been known to pour a beer into a “traveller” cup when he takes his children to a park.

Ontario cities, as creatures of the province, have the authority to allow personal alcohol consumption in parks. But as a recent vote by Toronto city council illustrated, many have been skittish to do so. Last week, councillors in Toronto punted a motion to allow it to next year.

Out west, Calgary allows those of legal age to drink in designated parks. There is even an online booking system.

Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla, in voicing support, pointed out it is not as if Hamilton is going full speed ahead on allowing people to drink in parks.

“I don’t think anyone is asking for a blanket approval,” said Merulla. “The alcohol component is feasible.”

Graham emphasized that personal alcohol consumption has never been allowed in city parks. For reasons that are “unclear,” per a city report, bylaw officers simply could not issue a ticket. They only had that power from 2001 till ’05.

“The reason we realize this clause had been removed from the bylaw is we were doing a housekeeping review when we realized that provision had been removed,” Graham explained.

“We couldn’t enforce through bylaw, we could still enforce with the police, Why we would like it back is so we have two options. It’s never been allowed in parks, it’s just a change in enforcement.”

Danko, Merulla, Ferguson and fellow Couns. Esther Pauls (Ward 7), Russ Powers (5), Nrinder Nann (3) and Arlene VanderBeek (13) voted for the staff direction. Ward 10 Coun. Maria Pearson voted against it.

Pearson said she was concerned about a potential safety issue in her ward, which encompasses the Lower Stoney Creek area.

Graham identified the key elements city staff would likely focus on before detailing whether Hamilton should push ahead with allowing pilsners in parks.

“We would want to look at risk and liablity and all the other factors associated with it,” she told councillors.

In the meantime, per the report, some $3,939.50 in fines assessed by bylaw officers who, as it turns out, were out of their lane is going to be refunded. That will come out of the City of Hamilton operating budget.

Forty-four people who paid a fine in 2021 will get letters telling them they are due a refund.

“Individuals will have two years to claim any reimbursement by contacting the City,” the report says.

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