Wineglass Bay, Tasmania. Used because it's what comes up when you google "wineglass on the beach."

Wineglass Bay, Tasmania. Used because it’s what comes up when you google “wineglass on the beach” and is way prettier, anyway.

You have to hand it to our provincial government. No time like a summer semi-heatwave (that’s as close as we get in Vancouver) to raise the spectre of—gasp—legalising the consumption of alcohol on the beach.

Isn’t this what’s known in the artful (though not always tasteful) business of politics as a “trial balloon?”  The idea is floated; everyone from all points of view weighs in; and then the government goes ahead and does what it always intended to do in the first place.

When I was growing up there was always a couple of Thermos flasks in our picnic basket. One was most definitely filled with tea. The other may quite likely have contained something “stronger”, possibly with gin orientations. And I’m sure there was usually a bottle of Bulmers in there…

Fast forward to life on the west coast of Canada where, a couple of decades ago, as long as you were discreet—and didn’t fall over and hurt yourself as you walked home—nobody used to bother you.  If you wanted to enjoy a bottle of wine with your barbecue, all well and good.

Yes, it was against the law. But everyone knew the law didn’t make a lot of sense. After all, what’s the difference between the beach and a picnic table in a provincial campground? There nobody bats an eye if you drink—as long as you keep things in check.

In recent years, with the onset of more zealous enforcement, my habit has been to err on the side of caution. I’ve yet to be asked by a friendly officer if he or she might sample the contents of my trusty water bottle. And nobody’s poured out my “Perrier” to date.  But the whole exercise of concealment does seem a little ridiculous. Plus, plastic cups really don’t do it for me.

Now it seems we’ve embarked on what is essentially a silly discussion about the pleasures, perils and pitfalls of drinking on the beach.

It concerns me that, once all the back and forth has taken place, and the various interest groups have stuck their oars in, we’ll wind up with some stupid, half-baked and botched revision that will make it legal to do what everyone’s been doing for years. But only if what you’re drinking is under 4.5%, comes in a plastic bottle with “lite” on the label, self-destructs at sunset and is pink. And was made on a Tuesday. Or something like that.

Basically we’re going about it in the wrong way.

It’s not really about the beach at all. The issue is: should we in Canada move into the realm of other civilised societies that allow responsible drinking in public places.

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

In several European countries (including the UK) it’s considered quite normal to grab a beer to enjoy with your lunchtime sandwich in the park. No big deal. But drink a six pack and you’ll likely be in trouble. And don’t even think about getting behind the wheel.  Some jurisdictions also impose temporary bans when special events or crowd control dictates, which also makes perfect sense

In Canada we already have the safeguards in place. It’s just a question of enforcing them. If you’re intoxicated in public, regardless of any change in the law, look out. You can be charged. As for driving? Surely, no further discussion needed. In BC we have some of the strictest DUI laws around.

Drinking on the beach? Why are we even discussing it?

Wake me up if and when it’s ever done.


UPDATED, August 2, 2013

There’s an interesting story in Metro today, about police confiscating a young man’s unopened six-pack of beer, almost at English Bay, right before the fireworks were about to start.  They said: he had no right to be carrying the beer (which he’d just bought from neighbourhood BC Liquor store) in his backpack. He said: he was going to drink it at home later.

Even though they said he could pick it up at the station later, his beer was gone for the night.

A few thoughts on this…

While I fully sympathize with the efforts of police to control the situation (I’m a long-time West End resident and know all about fireworks crowds…), I believe their authority should not extend to searching backpacks etc. The same goes for transit police.  The bottom line is: the real problem is the actual drunks, whether they’re knocking back a 40 ouncer in the shrubs, or downing cocktails like there’s no tomorrow in a local bar.

If we’re not supposed to be carrying beer on the street at a given time, why was the liquor store open? Besides, you can be  sure there are hard core partiers, who had already stashed their booze somewhere, much earlier in the day. And I do know the odd local who likes to party down before heading to the show…

Bottom line? If you want an alcohol free zone, you’d better be prepared to enforce it fairly and equally. i.e. No licensed sales anywhere in the area an hour before or after the event. Now there’s a can of worms, eh? Only then can you really (morally) allow police to start confiscating unopened booze out of people’s backpacks.

Here’s the story