CAMRA Victoria treasurer Mark Rennie and president Greg Garner cheers (unopened) beers at Craigflower-Kosapsom Park in anticipation of Sunday’s Beer on the Beach Protest Picnic.                                 Travis Paterson/News Staff

CAMRA Victoria treasurer Mark Rennie and president Greg Garner cheers (unopened) beers at Craigflower-Kosapsom Park in anticipation of Sunday’s Beer on the Beach Protest Picnic. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Victoria group makes a pitch for ‘Beer on the Beach’

Sunday picnic serves as protest to ease public drinking laws

Alcohol consumption is a regular occurrence on Greater Victoria beaches but it’s still illegal.

Take a closer look at beachgoers on hot day at Willows and Gonzales, whether it’s midday or sunset, and you’re likely to spot a can of craft beer or cider, or a cup of wine.

Public consumption of alcohol, of course, is forebidden according to B.C.’s liquor act and violators could be fined $240. However, a local craft beer advocacy group doesn’t see a problem with a responsible drink at the beach, and would like to see the rules changed.

This weekend members of the Campaign for Real Ale Society of Victoria, or CAMRA, are hosting Beer on the Beach Picnic Protest, starting at 1 p.m. Sunday in Saanich’s Craigflower-Kosapsom Park.

“It’s about having a responsible drink, nothing else,” said Greg Garner, president of CAMRA Victoria.

Sunday’s picnic is a responsible public-drinking protest, not a beer fest, as the CAMRA chapter has encouraged members to bring their kids, beach games, a lunch and, of course, a beer to drink responsibly, Garner explains.

“There won’t be beers for sale, or distribution,” Garner said. “Those of us drinking, we’re having one symbolic beer. This is not a celebration but a brief and responsible protest in picnic form.”

Saanich Police and the District of Saanich have been forewarned, Garner said. The District, for its part, said it won’t be changing the bylaw for Sunday. Saanich Parks management and control bylaw does not prohibit the consumption of liquor in parks.

There are places where public drinking, in moderation, is permitted.

Montreal is famous for its “picnic rule” and the city’s website states its expectations quite clearly.

“Drinking alcoholic beverages in public places is strictly prohibited,” it reads. “The only exceptions to this rule are when beverages are consumed in establishments that hold permits issued by the Régie des permis d’alcool du Québec or consumed in a park with a meal.”

It’s exactly what Garner, who works in finance and CAMRA’s treasurer, Mark Rennie, who works in the tech sector, are looking for.

While dated, however, B.C.’s rules around public drinking were originally put in place for a reason.

In parts of the world where public drinking is legal, including beaches, there are problems, said Tim Stockwell, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and professor at the University of Victoria.

“It’s basically a Pandora’s box – once it’s allowed, which it probably will again in B.C., there will be many peaceful occasions of public drinking and there will be also some wild events where things get out of hand and people get hurt.”

At the moment, the laws and restrictions around public drinking are tilted towards public safety, he said.

“There is a strong connection between alcohol use and violence in public places – obviously not in every case – but it is a major risk factor, especially when you get large groups of young people, especially young men, under the influence.”

It should be noted that this will be a small group of responsible society members but members of the public others are welcome to join, Garner said. The group will carry out any and all waste the event creates.

Permits to consume alcohol in public places are available in certain circumstances, though it’s mostly the bigger events that acquire these permits. They also cost money, and the owners of such permits are liable for any risks.

“We think that’s a bit much, people should be able to have a responsible drink at the beach or park.”

The Victoria event follows a successful picnic protest held at Vancouver’s English Bay last year where CAMRA Vancouver reported a successful event with no issues nor tickets written. Sunday’s event will also happen in Vancouver, Powell River and the South Okanagan.

Craigflower-Kosapsom Park, next to the historic schoolhouse, was chosen for its central location in Greater Victoria and access to washrooms and bus routes.