Councillor Mike Layton says the community meeting was meant to be about park safety, not alcohol.
“It’s sort of taken on a life of its own.”
That was Ward 19 Councillor Mike Layton’s explanation of how Thursday night’s community meeting at Trinity Bellwoods Community Centre came to be an open forum for discussing alcohol use in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Layton’s office had originally scheduled the meeting with the expectation that it would be a discussion about how to reconcile the various ways people use the space, as well as about park safety. Layton said he was expecting “maybe a dozen or 15 people.”
Instead over 100 people showed up after the meeting was billed as “A Meeting to Discuss Alcohol Consumption in Trinity Bellwoods Park” on both social media and posters that popped up around the neighbourhood. Several media outlets then ran with the story, and within a couple days, the meeting really had become a discussion that was largely about park drinking.
“It’s good to have these big discussions about things, and it’s good that people are interested in their community,” said Layton.
Part of the story leading up to the meeting had been a police initiative called Project Green Glasses, which was described as an upcoming crackdown on park drinking in the western half of downtown, particularly in Trinity Bellwoods, Christie Pits, Bellevue Square, Dufferin Grove, and Alexandra parks. Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso, who was at the meeting representing Toronto Police Services’ 14 Division, said much of that was hyperbole.
“Project Green Glasses is a project we started a number of years ago,” he said. “We’re continuing it this year. We started it on April 30, and it will continue through ’til September 30…It’s all about public safety. It’s about making sure we suppress crime and disorder, so that everybody in the community can enjoy the parks…There’s a perception that this is a crackdown about drinking in this particular park, and that is not the case.”
After representatives from the police and parks department explained their role in maintaining order in the park, meeting attendees were split into groups and asked to come up with ways the park could be made safer.
Only a few seemed to be in favour of tougher enforcement. Most said they wanted the police to focus more on stopping problem behaviour, rather than simply ticketing park goers for having an open beer.
“When the odd person gets out of control, the police should be there to deal with that,” said local resident Rob Davidson. “If the odd person is selling drugs, the police should be there to deal with that. But for the most part, we want to use it as our backyard. A lot of us don’t have backyards, and we want to have a bottle of wine or a couple beers on a Saturday afternoon, and we don’t want to be harassed.”
More washrooms and litter receptacles were also popular suggestions. Some people wanted to see change on a larger scale, and suggested amendments to both provincial liquor laws and City bylaws.
“Since the liquor laws and bylaws were passed, the way we use our public spaces has changed,” said Mike Hook, who also lives near the park. “The city has changed a great deal…The laws should reflect the way the park is used, rather than dictating the way people use the park.”
While some of the suggestions seemed difficult to act on—many people just wanted a Hamsterdam-style zone of tolerance, while others were pushing for “personal drinking licences”—Layton said that there were still a lot of good ideas brought forward. He added that he hopes Trinity Bellwoods can be a model for the rest of the city in how it deals with these issues.
“No one said this was going to be easy,” he said. “If we want to talk about a longer term solution where we bring change across the city, we’ve got to make it work here. And if anyone can make it work, it’s this community.”