Tofino officially adopted a policy that had been brewing for nearly two years last week, but they likely won’t be popping the champagne.
The town’s municipal council approved the final draft of a municipal alcohol policy on Jan. 12.
In a presentation to council, the district’s manager of corporate services Elyse Goatcher Bergmann explained that the new policy is specific to public events and leaves the door open for further policies around alcohol in other aspects of community.
The policy was first raised by Coun. Tom Stere in 2019 and came in the wake of a presentation to council from then Central Vancouver Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback.
Consultations with public health officials and Tofino residents, including a public survey, took place throughout 2020.
“We got a lot of great responses that informed the content of the policy and how we’ll be rolling it out from here,” Goatcher-Bergmann said.
Under the new policy, all public events serving alcohol on municipally owned property will require approval from council and approval will automatically be denied to any events being held at public parks, docks or trails.
“Public parks are intentionally set aside as inclusive community spaces. Public parks should not be designated for exclusive, adult-only uses such as those that serve alcohol,” the policy reads.
It adds that alcohol on docks and trails presents a “significant safety concern for participants and first responders.”
The policy also prohibits alcohol at community events targeting families, like Family Day, Canada Day and parades.
“The provision of alcohol does not add significantly to the atmosphere or quality of events that intentionally target the inclusion of families and children, and may jeopardize the overall appeal to a multi-generational audience,” it reads.
Organizers of events must be clear in their marketing materials that alcohol will be present.
“Sober individuals, people with children and people with substance use issues should be aware if the event intends to serve alcohol so that informed choices can be made,” the policy reads.
Events must also provide a security plan as well as options for safe transportation, like an event shuttle or volunteer designated driver program.
“Event organizers have a duty of care to event attendees, and are legally responsible for ensuring that attendees do not drive while intoxicated and that potentially intoxicated persons arrive home safely,” the policy reads.
The policy mandates that events must include a separate area for non-alcoholic drinks that cannot be combined with a bar, “so that guests do not have to stand in the same line-up for alcohol to receive a nonalcoholic drink” and prohibits any announcement or signal indicating ‘last call’ when the bar is closing.
“Announcing a “Last Call” can encourage binge-drinking at the end of the event, resulting in high blood alcohol levels that may peak after the event and lead to impaired driving and other issues,” it reads.
The policy, which was unanimously approved by council, will be up for review in 2023.
Coun. Stere thanked district staff “for a policy that fully embraces the intent and direction that council gave for the creation of this municipal alcohol policy” and said he “very much supported” adopting it.
“The intent was to recognize and reduce the potential harms associated with the service of alcohol at municipal events on public property and you fully embraced those intents,” he said. “I also feel that it further provides a framework to look at the issues related to alcohol consumption and availability in the community and serve as a directional guide in the decisions that we sometimes have to make on this issue.”
He added that the new policy will help guide regional discussions around alcohol, which he called “a very significant public and social health issue in our communities and our broader region.”
Prior to landing on council’s desk for final approval, a draft policy was reviewed by Central Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Sandra Allison who responded in a letter commending Tofino “for taking the initiative to create policy solutions for the well-documented community and individual harms of alcohol use in our communities.”
“I appreciate that the purpose and scope of the draft policy are to prevent harms related to public consumption at events which may disengage families or other community members and impact community inclusivity,” she wrote. “I agree strongly that these community activities are opportunities to support more healthy social behaviours, rather than alcohol consumption.”
Dr. Allison suggested though that the district may not have gone far enough to curb alcohol access and wrote that council should pursue further restrictions through land use bylaws, business licensing and alcohol pricing while also limiting advertising and promoting healthy alternatives.
“The municipal authority includes the ability to limit liquor outlets, outlet operation hours, and pricing schemes, in collaboration with operators,” she wrote. “Going further in the policy to limit liquor outlets and operation hours, to limit the harms related to excess alcohol availability is within the authority of the municipal leadership and in the spirit of good municipal alcohol policy.”
She recommended that Tofino’s new policy specifically be labelled for events to allow room for future alcohol policies that address other aspects of the community and suggested she is keen to work with Tofino towards more robust restrictions.
“I am committed to working with you to decrease the harms related to alcohol use in your community. I would be very happy to discuss an enhanced policy which would more fully address the concerns we have around alcohol use in our communities, but what you have drawn up is a great start,” she wrote.
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