Free the beer! Beer advocacy group takes protest to the park

Remind us... why is drinking at the beach illegal? CAMRA Vancouver photo

Remind us… why is drinking at the beach illegal? CAMRA Vancouver photo

OK, check this out. I have this crazy idea. It’s totally insane. Stay with me here.

I think (you ready for this?) the good people of this city should be able to sit down together at a picnic table, in public, and enjoy an alcoholic beverage of their choosing. Hold on, I’m not done. I think that adults – grown-up, tax-paying, responsible adults – should be able to have said beer, in public, and not be arrested or fined.

There. I said it. Glad I got that off my chest.

I know this sounds absolutely bonkers. A beer at a picnic, you say? Surely, this will only lead to further societal decay and the end of days. Won’t someone please think of the children?

Call me crazy, but I think it’s absolutely absurd that in this day and age, in this supposedly “world-class city” (whatever that means), that it is illegal to enjoy a cold beer at the beach on a sunny day.

What is this? Riyadh? Utah?

Are we not capable of drinking beer outside without unleashing some sort of maelstrom of violence and property damage?

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Currently, if you crack open a cold one in public you’re looking at a $240 fine. – CAMRA Vancouver photo

Call me an optimist, but I think Vancouverites are ready.

Thankfully, the people at CAMRA Vancouver share my seemingly outlandish opinion. If you’re unfamiliar, CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale Society) is a volunteer-run craft beer advocacy group – they’re a great organization and put on a lot of cool beer workshops and seminars (check them out at camravancouver.ca).

On Sunday, the group held a protest on the beach at English Bay, staging a “drink-in” to draw attention to Vancouver’s archaic public alcohol ban. Close to 50 of the godless, lawless heathens decided to have a beer and enjoy the nice sunny day. Shockingly, society didn’t crumble and our city wasn’t plunged into an anarchic orgy of sin and carbonated barley juice. Shame.

In fact, nothing happened at all, despite the police being forewarned, because drinking a beer like an adult in public is a totally normal, benign activity permitted pretty much anywhere else on earth.

New regulations passed earlier this year by the province give the city the right to allow public drinking wherever it wants. However, the city apparently doesn’t want anyone partaking in public, because it’s been slow to actually designate any areas. Get busted cracking open a can in public and you’re looking at a $240 fine. Which is garbage.

I spoke with CAMRA Vancouver president David Perry about what needs to be done to drag Vancouver kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

 

Tell me about why CAMRA decided to stage the protest? 

CAMRA Vancouver decided to stage this event as a way of signaling to the city that we are serious about wanting to shift the way we address public drinking. We surveyed our members and non-members and saw that this issue was overwhelmingly the top priority. Beyond that, I know the city’s liquor policy survey said the same thing. But with the conversations I had with the liquor analysts at the city, I was not under the impression that changing open container policy was something they were going to entertain.

 

What was the response like from the city? From the public?

When I contacted the city to let them know [about the drink-in], they were very helpful in helping me find the proper contacts at the VPD. The police were fantastic and collaborative. They made sure that I had all the information and made sure I knew what to expect in terms of police presence. I can’t stress enough how fantastic the Vancouver Police are.

 

Why do you think B.C. has such archaic liquor laws?

Most people can trace the laws back to the days of Canada’s prohibition. They have remained (relatively) unchanged since that time. But those laws are a byproduct of a puritanical philosophy around alcohol consumption as a whole. We need to address the underlying philosophical issue, in which we are vilifying alcohol, before we can talk about truly shifting liquor policy.

 

What are the social and economic effects of our restrictive liquor laws?

The biggest detriment is in tourism – the mayor always talks about Vancouver being a world-class city, but I have worked in the tourism industry here. People visiting the city are flabbergasted that they can’t enjoy a beer or a glass of wine in the park or on a beach when they are in town. We have some of the best breweries in the world here; why can’t we take those beers and enjoy them in the most beautiful place on earth?