A Kugluktuk woman hoping to change local liquor rules says over the past three years she’s become worried about the impact alcohol is having in the hamlet
“With this unrestricted amount of alcohol coming into our community, I’ve seen a lot of negative things happen,” said Shannon Case, who has circulated a petition calling for restrictions, in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.
That’s why she shared the petition, which garnered 167 votes in the community of about 1,400 and prompted a vote to take place at the community hall May 16.
It will give residents a chance to choose whether to prohibit or restrict access to alcohol in the community, or keep alcohol sales unrestricted.
“I’d like to see change for our youth and people,” Case said.
“My only hope is that it can help minimize the bootlegging and the violence that comes along with the consumption of alcohol. I’ve done this also for the elders, as they want to see the change happen.”
Nunavut’s Liquor Act grants the territory’s 25 hamlets the right to determine how they want to regulate access to alcohol in their communities.
Currently, the hamlets are divided into three categories of alcohol regulation:
- Unrestricted — Kugluktuk, Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Grise Fiord, Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Taloyoak;
- Restricted — Arctic Bay, Cape Dorset, Chesterfield Inlet, Clyde River, Hall Beach, Igloolik, Kimmirut, Naujaat, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuaq, Resolute Bay and Whale Cove;
- Prohibited — Arviat, Coral Harbour, Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, Pangnirtung, Sanikiluaq.
If at least 60 per cent of voters in Kugluktuk vote “yes” and choose to switch to a restricted system, it would return the hamlet to its system from 2018, before residents voted to scrap its alcohol education committee and have no restrictions.
If restrictions were reimposed, it would mean residents could only purchase limited amounts of alcohol every two weeks: Either 1.775 litres of spirits, 48 cans of beer or liquor with no more than eight per cent alcohol content up to 355 millilitres each, or 3.75 litres of wine.
Dan Malleck, a professor of health sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., said Nunavut’s system of allowing individual hamlets to determine how they want to regulate alcohol in their community is, historically in Canada, “not an unusual process.”
Malleck is the author of “Liquor and the Liberal State,” a book about the history of alcohol regulation and prohibition in Ontario and Canada.
He said in the 20th century it became more common for Indigenous communities to determine their own alcohol regulations, due to concerns about the effects of alcohol and as an expression of autonomy from colonialism.
Malleck said local option laws in Canada, passed in 1864, had given municipalities rights over licensing and to determine what their communities needed in terms of alcohol regulation.
“The rights of municipalities are not captured in the [Canadian] Constitution, so it does come down to what individual provinces allow their municipalities,” he said.
A municipality allowing drinking in public parks is another example of how individual communities may choose to regulate alcohol, he said, citing discussions currently being had in Calgary and Toronto.
“It continues to be the sort of thing where some liquor laws allow a certain amount of flexibility,” Malleck said.
Full prohibition, however, has historically been a challenge even for communities in regionally dispersed areas like Nunavut, with smuggling and homebrewing making regulation complicated.
“A prohibition on a legal source of alcohol can have the effect of creating illegal and possibly more dangerous forms of alcohol … so that’s the issue of effectiveness,” Malleck said.
“If it’s a remote community that’s hard to get into, it’s easier to manage prohibition, but fermentation is a natural process. You can’t escape fermentation. If you’ve got yeast in the air or bacteria, and you’ve got sugar, you can make alcohol.”
Communities in Nunavut can vote to change local liquor rules once every three years if a minimum of 20 residents sign a petition to the finance minister.
Since 2019, Kugaaruk, Sanikiluaq, Gjoa Haven, Baker Lake, Arviat and Coral Harbour have also held plebiscites, ultimately voting to maintain their respective regulatory systems as none achieved the required 60 per cent of votes to change.