The City of Penticton will allow drinking in public spaces. The decision was made Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in a virtual city council meeting. (Cannery Brewing photo)

COVID-19 not right time to OK public drinking: Vernon city councillor

Public drinking as tool for restaurants amid pandemic to return to council following RCMP, Interior Health feedback

Consumption of alcohol in Vernon’s public spaces will come before council once again after more information is collected from RCMP and health experts.

The idea was originally brought forward by Coun. Scott Anderson during the May 25 meeting as a potential aid to restaurants reopening in a reduced capacity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking to Vernon’s neighbours in the south, Anderson pointed to Penticton as city councillors pitched the idea to OK drinks at the beach in designated areas and hours.

Anderson moved the report presented to staff during the June 8 meeting of council be accepted as information.

Coun. Kelly Fehr said although he’s not against this idea of allowing drinking in public, now is not the right time.

“It doesn’t seem to be very congruent to oppose an evidence-based health service such as an overdose prevention site, or the location of the site, on one hand, and promote the utilization of the most harmful drug — alcohol — on the other hand,” Fehr said. “Which has at least 17 consumption sites — bars — in Vernon.”

READ MORE: Overdose prevention site selected for downtown Vernon

READ MORE: Chamber not pleased with overdose prevention site in downtown Vernon

“It is unfair to consistently disregard the needs of people struggling with one substance use disorder while actively promoting access to another substance,” he said, asking his councillor colleagues not to take this lightly.

Fehr pointed to a recent presentation from Vernon North Okanagan RCMP superintendent Shawna Baher where she confirmed drinking and driving files have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He also pointed to a study that found alcohol use increased during the pandemic and it’s been linked to reasons such as lack of routine and boredom.

“I’m not closed to going down this road,” Fehr said. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea at a different time, I think we seriously need to consider the ramifications and prejudices of going down this road.”

Anderson responded by saying alcohol and opioids are very different as one is legal and the other is not. He clarified his original idea if approved, would be to set specific locations and times where alcohol purchased with takeout could be consumed in public.

“It’s time to think outside the box,” he said.

Council voted to accept the report from staff for information with Mayor Victor Cumming and councillors Dalvir Nahal and Fehr opposed.

Staff will come back with another report after speaking with RCMP and the Interior Health Authority.

On June 2, city councillors in Penticton voted 4-2 to pass a one-month pilot project allowing consumption of alcohol in designated public areas. Councillors debated the issue for nearly two hours.

Beginning June 10, the City of Penticton will start to obtain public feedback on how the project is working. These findings will be presented to council during its July 7 meeting.

READ MORE: Pilot project approved: Penticton to allow alcohol in outdoor spaces

READ MORE: More research required ahead of public drinking in Vernon


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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