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Ahead of cannabis legalization, cities consider drinking in public parks


As all corners of the country prepare for a seismic shift in how and where people consume marijuana, several cities are considering whether it would make sense to legalize drinking alcohol in parks as well — a move an expert said would bring antiquated laws in line with the way people already behave.

“I think a lot of people who want to have a bottle of wine in a public park on a Sunday are probably going to be doing that anyway,” said Mitchell Kosny, interim director of Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning.

The idea of legalizing alcohol in parks and on beaches has come up in Toronto and Vancouver, both of which are in the midst of municipal elections and both of which are in provinces that will allow people to toke in public come Oct. 17.

Kosny said he suspects the idea is floating around now because election candidates and front runners may want to appear “open-minded.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory floated the idea at an event Thursday, pointing out that it would seem counterintuitive to allow people to smoke pot in parks but not drink a beer — especially since people are already bringing wine and beer to their picnics.

“I know from being in the parks now that it’s quite a widespread practice of people having a glass of wine, and it doesn’t seem the world has come to an end as a result of that,” Tory told reporters following a graduation ceremony for police recruits.

But the issue isn’t up to him alone.

“Anything that has to do with drinking in the province is immensely complicated,” Tory noted.

A spokesman for Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department said the question of drinking in public spaces isn’t up to the city — it’s governed by the Ontario Liquor Licence Act.

Premier Doug Ford has said he plans to sit down with Tory, whom he described as being “all for drinking in the parks now,” to consult on the issue.

“The laws here in Canada on this field are much more conservative,” said Kosny, adding that in parts of Europe as well as Australia, drinking in public is accepted and common.

“There’s much more openness to drinking in public parks than we see in Canada.”

In Vancouver, a proposal to sell beer and wine through concession stands at two beaches next summer will be discussed at a meeting on Monday.

Michael Wiebe, chairman of the Vancouver Park Board, said the pilot project at English Bay and Third Beach following public consultations would permit people to enjoy alcohol responsibly — although bringing your own alcohol to parks and beaches would still be illegal.

“The main goal we’re looking for in Vancouver is to respect the person who’s respecting the drinking laws and is going to enjoy a bottle of wine and have a picnic,” Wiebe said, adding more people living in condos are using beaches as backyards to gather with friends and drink anyway.

Last year, the B.C. government introduced legislation allowing approval for drinking in larger spaces beyond a 200-person beer garden, and Wiebe said that meant up to 1,200 people could consume alcohol on a beach that is licensed for that purpose.

“It meant parents having a casual beer with kids playing in playgrounds,” he said.

Mariana Valverde, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, said the currents laws in Canada for drinking in public don’t distinguish between responsible drinkers and excessive drinking causing unruly behaviour.

“The existing rules don’t differentiate between things that are a problem and things that are not a problem. Bylaw officers often just turn a blind eye to things that are not a problem,” she said.

Valverde said she believes most people having picnics in parks will responsibly drink, and that they should be allowed.

Kosny said if cities allow drinking in public parks, he predicts the difference in the amount of people drinking will be “marginal.”

“There may be a few more people that will openly have that bottle of wine out there,” he said.

Kosny said based on what he’s observed in other parts of the world during his travels, he expects if cities allow public drinking, they’ll need to worry more about the mess than public drunkenness.

“Over in the (United Kingdom), I notice on Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is a hell of a lot of mess. There are bottles overflowing public trash cans in parks and there’s extra cleanup needed,” said Kosny.

For 27-year-old Tara Pollak, who is from Toronto, drinking in public parks could save her some cash. She said she wouldn’t have to go to a patio or restaurant, where alcohol is usually more expensive, in order to have a drink with friends.

“I’m a poor student paying back loans,” said Pollak. “It would be nice to share some sangria or beers with friends in the park and just hang out.”

Toronto police expanding neighbourhood officer program amid spate of shootings

ALANNA RIZZA, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Oct 1st, 2018

Toronto’s police service is set to expand an existing neighbourhood officer program in an effort to “build trust and reduce crime,” but critics say it’s unlikely to do either.

Deputy Chief Peter Yuen, who is in charge of the police force’s communities and neighbourhoods command, said the expansion will roll out in phases over the course of a year and will more than double the number of community officers on city streets.

“We want to deliver community-centred policing. We want to get back to connecting with the neighbourhoods,” said Yuen.

Yuen said in total, about 120 officers will be deployed to 27 neighbourhoods. The first phase of deployments begins on Monday, when 40 officers will be placed in eight neighbourhoods across the city.

He said more officers will continue to be stationed in other Toronto neighbourhoods through October 2019. Yuen said the expansion would bring the total number of neighbourhood officers to about 220 situated in a total of 60 neighbourhoods. He said it’s a four-year assignment for the officers, which he said will give them time to build relationships with the public.

The expansion boosts an existing program that has been running since 2013 and currently has 96 officers in 33 neighbourhoods.

A report that was presented at a Toronto police board meeting on Friday said the early focus of the program was “to increase police presence and address community problems … within particular neighbourhoods and improve relationships between community members and the police.

The report said that through the program, officers conduct regular patrols of the community and engage in “intelligence-gathering.” The report also said the program’s expansion will cost about $16 million each year.

Yuen said it will continue to have the same goals, but that officers will be more “accessible” to the community.

“Neighbourhood officers will have the training and the tools to go and assist neighbourhoods,” he said. “Neighbourhood officers will be available to the public 24-7.”

So far this year, Toronto has seen 40 fatal shootings, compared to 29 fatal shootings in all of 2017, according to Toronto police crime statistics. There were also 29 fatal shootings in 2016 and 17 in 2015, the data shows.

Louis March, founder of the Toronto-based Zero Gun Violence Movement, said the increased police presence could be “intimidating.”

He said some officers can come off as “aggressive” when they try to speak to community members about gun violence in order to get information on suspects.

“A lot of officers are doing good work,” said March. “But some officers can be aggressive. There’s a lack of empathy, concern, a lack of understanding.”

March said policing isn’t a solution to reducing violence, and that there should be more emphasis on developing neighbourhoods economically, by creating job opportunities and improving public programming.

“It’s about investing and developing these communities,” he said.

Yuen said the program expansion isn’t a response to the jump in gun violence in the city, but that it will address guns and gangs.

“We’re not singularly looking through a crime lens,” said Yuen. “We are more than just crime fighters…. If we just look through that single lens then we lose the focus of the neighbourhood officers.”

Yuen said the officers will also be “engaging” with the communities to identify members of the public who suffer from mental illnesses.

“They will be able to identify these people and they will be able to get those people the required assistance they need,” he said.

Yuen said members of the community in the 27 newly selected neighbourhoods were consulted over the summer about the program, and he believes they responded positively to the expansion. He said this included consultations with local politicians, business improvement agencies, churches and other organizations, although he declined to name which ones specifically.

Neighbourhoods where officers will be stationed were chosen based on statistics that looked at a range of factors including crime index, level of unemployment, level of income, family status, level of education, and “fear of violence,” according to the police report.

“This is not a police-driven program. This program is a collaborative approach,” said Yuen.

Zya Brown, director of Think 2wice, which provides activities and programming for youth and those involved in the legal system, said she doesn’t believe the officer program will build trust. She said police can bring a level of fear as they are in a position of power and authority, and can make members of the public feel like they are criminals.

“This is also going to enforce stereotypes,” she said. “Because people in these neighbourhoods are black and brown.”

She said she is worried the program will be another version of the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, which was criticized for disproportionately targeting people of colour. That program saw more police deployed to neighbourhoods that saw crime increases the year before, during the city’s so-called “Summer of the Gun.”

Canada, U.S. reach new NAFTA deal; ‘It’s a good day for Canada,’ says Trudeau

JAMES MCCARTEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Oct 1st, 2018

A new era in North American free trade dawned in the dead of night Sunday as a 14-month NAFTA modernization effort between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico finally came to fruition with just hours to spare before an end-of-weekend deadline.

What began as a marathon in the summer of 2017 ended in a flat-out sprint as negotiators in Ottawa and Washington worked around the clock to put the finishing touches on language adding Canada to the deal reached over the summer between the U.S. and Mexico.

“It’s a good day for Canada,” was all Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would say as he left a late-night cabinet meeting in Ottawa that capped several days of frenetic long-distance talks that included Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Ambassador David MacNaughton.

Details remained sparse, but U.S. administration officials say the deal — newly christened the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, or USMCA — provides increased access to Canada’s dairy market for U.S. producers and limits the American impact of Canada’s controversial supply management system for dairy and poultry products, long a thorn in the side of President Donald Trump.

It also appears to preserve the key dispute-resolution provisions — Chapter 19 — which allow for independent panels to resolve disputes involving companies and governments, as well as Chapter 20, the government-to-government dispute settlement mechanism.

Canada fought hard to retain Chapter 19, a holdover from NAFTA that U.S. trade ambassador Robert Lighthizer worked tooth and nail to eliminate.

“USMCA will give our workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses a high-standard trade agreement that will result in freer markets, fairer trade and robust economic growth in our region,” Freeland and Lighthizer said in a joint statement.

“It will strengthen the middle class, and create good, well-paying jobs and new opportunities for the nearly half billion people who call North America home.”

On the matter of Section 232 tariffs, Trump’s trade weapon of choice, U.S. officials told a late-night conference call with reporters that the two sides had “reached an accommodation”‘ on the issue.

A side letter published along with the main text of the agreement exempts a percentage of eligible auto exports from the tariffs. A similar agreement between Mexico and the U.S. preserves duty-free access to the U.S. market for vehicles that comply with the agreement’s rules of origin.

Those rules require that a certain percentage of an imported vehicle’s components be manufactured in the United States.

Some have characterized the side letter as effectively establishing a quota on the number of autos that can be exported to the U.S. — anathema to the very principles of free trade. But Dan Ujczo, an international trade lawyer with the U.S. firm Dickinson Wright, said it would only apply to a very small percentage of vehicles that don’t comply with the origin rules.

“When people are saying there’s a cap on auto exports, it’s only in the limited situation where the goods are non-conforming with the rules of origin. So if you comply with the rules of origin, there’s no way you are subject to 232 tariffs,” Ujczo said.

“This objection is largely more philosophical than practical — the idea of having quotas as a side letter to a free trade agreement. The practical consequences are limited, if any.”

Despite the fact that Ottawa had long pushed back hard against allowing the deal to be periodically revisited, officials in the U.S. briefing said the new language includes a provision that will indeed see the deal reviewed every six years.

“This is going to be one of the most enforceable trade agreements we’ve ever had,” one official said. “This gives us a significant new form of leverage in terms of encouraging people to come up to the mark and really fully comply with all of their obligations.

“This administration is committed to strong and effective enforcement of this agreement, just like all of our other agreements. We will be watching very carefully to see and to make sure that all of the things that have been pledged and promised in the agreement do come about.”

Insiders got wind of a breakthrough after 14 months of tumultuous talks and just hours before U.S. and Mexican trade authorities were set to publish their own trade agreement without Canada as a signatory.

Federal cabinet ministers were summoned to a late Sunday meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office near Parliament Hill, while the White House convened its own late-night trade briefing conference call just an hour before the midnight deadline.

“In short, we think this is a fantastic agreement for the U.S., but also for Canada and Mexico,” said the American officials, who cheered the fact that U.S. dairy ranchers would soon have “substantial” expanded access to lucrative markets north of the border.

They described the central elements of the deal as a “template” that would become the “playbook” for all of the Trump administration’s future trade deals, including new and stronger rules of origin on autos and mechanisms to ensure agreements don’t become “stale and outdated.”

“It’s a great win for the president and a validation of his strategy in the area of international trade.”

In Ottawa, PMO officials said there would be another cabinet meeting Monday and a news conference likely as well.

Meantime, congratulations were being offered among key stakeholders who have been on the edge of their seats waiting to see if Canada and the United States would find common ground.

An agreement on how to treat the auto sector, reached this summer between the United States and Mexico, was central to a revamped NAFTA going ahead.

But the U.S. and Canada had trouble dealing with other areas in the pact, including Canada’s dairy industry, its insistence on a strong dispute settlement mechanism and concerns about intellectual property and culture.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said it was relieved that an agreement in principle had been reached. But President Perrin Beatty said the details of the text needed a closer look before a final verdict could be rendered.

“Specifically, we will seek clarity on how the agreement addresses the existing tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium, as well as how it will ensure that tariffs and quotas upon Canada’s auto sector exports will be avoided,” Beatty said in a statement.

Trudeau has promised repeatedly to keep the country’s supply management system intact, despite pressure from Trump. The issue has also figured prominently in Quebec, where voters go to the polls in a provincial election on Monday.

With files from The Canadian Press’ Mike Blanchfield and Terry Pedwell in Ottawa

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