The NWT government said on Thursday it would add no new territory-wide restrictions on alcohol or cannabis, despite the Dene Nation renewing its plea for such measures a day earlier.
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya wants restrictions on liquor store hours during the Covid-19 pandemic and has asked for liquor sales per person to be limited.
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation has made a similar request.
Minister of Finance Caroline Wawzonek, however, told reporters her department would not impose new restrictions.
“The concern about restrictions is, what do you restrict and how do you restrict it?” Wawzonek said.
“If it’s a matter of restricting alcohol – but to a degree that pushes people to return more frequently to liquor stores, to be out of their homes more frequently – then that’s not accomplishing what is, right now, the primary goal: to keep people at home.”
Yakeleya said the Dene Nation had asked the GNWT for an intergovernmental working group, something Wawzonek says her department is open to creating.
“We did try to come up with a fairly comprehensive response to the Dene Nation’s motion, including in particular where they called for a working group, which certainly would be helpful in this context,” said Wawzonek.
“It would give an opportunity to really hear from each community and try to craft responses that are going to be appropriate for each community.”
Asked whether the Dene Nation’s 27 chiefs would consider their own task force should the GNWT again refuse its request, Yakeleya had said: ”There was some discussion … about a task force, but we’ve never had that full discussion to take what we have to do to protect our people and our communities.”
Speaking separately to Cabin Radio on Thursday, Yellowknives Dene First Nation chiefs Ernest Betsina and Edward Sangris both reiterated their support for Yakeleya’s motion.
“It is frustrating,” said Chief Sangris. “We really need to look at these issues.”
“We supported the motion,” said Chief Betsina. “We see it first-hand in our communities with the alcohol, especially in Dettah and Ndilǫ. We’re just outside the City of Yellowknife.
“A lot of people bring liquor into our communities and start partying, which we do not want. We want our members to stay safe.”
Other ways to implement restrictions
Wawzonek did say temporary prohibitions have always been available to communities around the territory, adding there have already been requests submitted for such orders by several communities.
“We recognize that decisions about how to manage alcohol within a community are those that we would like to encourage be made by community leadership,” she said.
“The Liquor Act provides a variety of tools to municipal and band governments to allow them to make their own decision and best respond to the specific needs of their residents.”
The Dene Nation is also looking for funding to assist its communities with the effects of alcohol withdrawal should prohibitions be put in place.
“That’s one of the things we asked in the motion, that the federal and territorial government look for funds to help the people manage the effects of alcohol withdrawal,” said Yakeleya.
“That’s something we had a good discussion about with the 27 chiefs after two and a half days of discussing [putting forward] a motion. We want to ensure there are funds available to help people.”
‘Not well-placed’ to ramp up programs
Alcohol abuse and the challenges that go along with alcohol addiction aren’t new to the Northwest Territories, said Wawzonek, adding Covid-19 has focused more attention on that conversation.
“If a community right now is choosing to impose a prohibition, part of the challenge is the reality that with Covid-19 happening, no systems – any level of government – are necessarily well-placed to be changing up and modifying their programs at this stage in time,” she said.
“Which is really a big part of the reason we’re not actually closing off the liquor stores right now.
“It’s a challenging time to be to be saying that we’re going to enhance or increase, say, a managed alcohol program.”
Wawzonek said the department may consider certain restrictions to assist law enforcement in reducing bootlegging in communities.
“But again, I want to be a bit cautious in that our goal with restrictions would really be to address bootlegging, to limit people who are abusing alcohol,” said the minister.
“The restriction is not to impact lawful and responsible use of alcohol or consumption of alcohol, it would be to target those who are abusing alcohol, or who were taking advantage of people who are addicted to alcohol.”
Ollie Williams contributed reporting.