Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Enforce the alcohol ban at beaches

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Drinking alcohol on Manitoba beaches is illegal. Yet hundreds of people do it at Lake Winnipeg's beaches -- usually on the weekends -- as though it's Mexico, a common practice for touristas in that country.

Since my young family happens to own lakefront at Lester Beach with a clear view of and access to the mile-and-a-half berth of desirable, fine sand north of Grand Beach, we have a particularly good perspective on what's happening.

We go to the beach often, and there isn't a day that goes by without someone bringing alcohol to the beach.

Nighttime adds to the incidents as groups both large and small head down to either set off fireworks or light fires on the beach (also prohibited, by the way). These people take beer cans and bottles of liquor with them, and they leave them behind after their sometimes boisterous evenings are done.

Like other early-morning beach walkers, we find the detritus when we take our dog down to swim in the lake. Since my children are younger than six, they help collect the cans and bottles before they're broken and cause injury to someone.

This lack of respect for others and the beach is concerning. Better to just leave the garbage behind for someone else to deal with, apparently.

For the most part, I don't have much of an issue with someone enjoying the odd beer at the beach. It becomes one when it becomes abusive and the behaviour of the drinkers escalates, as it did for me Friday evening.

I was assaulted by a 40-something father who took exception to me speaking to his children about climbing on the exposed sand cliffs eroding at the beach. Signage erected by the RM of Alexander advises people not to climb the cliffs, but they're ignored because "it's always been this way."

Since I was polite about it, I didn't expect this father to get in my face, invade my personal space and eventually assault me for suggesting we as parents ought to do more to set the right example.

He took particular offence when I pointed out his children were watching.

"Your kids are, too," he said.

"They're watching their dad stand up to a bully," I replied.

Thankfully, I had a camera so I could capture this man's identity and make it easier for the police to lay charges.

Prior to this incident, I spoke with a senior officer at the Grand Marais RCMP office about the issue of alcohol on the beach and what to do about it, since it seems to be the norm rather than an exception.

I was told the police don't care because it's such a minor issue, the courts don't think it worth the time, and they are pressed for staff to deal with the many calls that come in.

My understanding is this is a bylaw and violating it leads to a fine.

When officers come across someone with alcohol, they typically advise the them to dump it without issuing a ticket.

To me, this is sending the wrong message; it's OK as long as you don't get caught. As it is, people bring beer koozies or put their hard liquor in stainless-steel containers to avoid drawing attention to their guilty pleasures.

The senior officer I spoke to said police would only take drinking alcohol on the beach seriously if there was a possibility of violence or if drunkards were seen getting behind the wheel.

It was shocking to experience this scenario play out just days after the conversation.

I must say, however, when I reported the incident, police responded promptly and professionally, outlining possible courses of actions along with my rights.

My concern was whether this dad would continue to act abusively in public -- whether he would change how he ought to conduct himself in front of his children.

The sobering reality of facing an assault charge, conviction, and having it on one's record may eventually lead to a revision in this man's attitudes and opinions.

The bylaw for alcohol on the beach exists for a reason. There is signage at every access point to the beach advising people not to drink. The actions of a few require rules be put in place.

A greater issue? Is it OK for parents to not set the best moral example for our children? I was shocked at the behaviour of both the father and his 60-plus-year-old mother, who got into the act of abuse and insult -- all while the children watched. They one day will be teenagers and eventually adults on the beach and remember the evening when their authority figures deemed it appropriate to consume alcohol and add fuel to the fire of ignorance and regrettable behaviour.


Jeremy Torrie is an Ojibwa filmmaker whose recent film Path of Souls, starring Adam Beach, screened at the Gimli Film Festival.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2012 A11

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