NWT communities turn to temporary liquor prohibitions
Tuktoyaktuk says its residents are now under a temporary liquor prohibition during the Covid-19 pandemic. At least three other NWT communities are working on a similar measure.
On Thursday evening, the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk posted to Facebook a temporary prohibition order bearing the signature of Caroline Wawzonek, the finance and justice minister.
The order declares a liquor prohibition anywhere within 25 kilometres of the hamlet’s office. The measure is already in effect: it began just after midnight on Friday and will continue for 10 days, until the end of Sunday, April 19.
During that time, nobody inside the prohibition area can buy, sell, transport, or drink liquor.
The NWT government has said that while it won’t introduce any new territory-wide liquor restrictions, like the closure of stores or new limits on purchases, it will work with individual communities if they request it.
“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,” Wawzonek said earlier on Thursday.
“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 territorial government said Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic, and Tulita had made similar requests for temporary prohibition orders. Work on that legislation is under way.
The Dene Nation and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation have led calls for more restrictions on liquor sales during the pandemic, expressing concern about alcohol’s impact on residents’ ability to heed the chief public health officer’s recommendations and stay safe.
The NWT government, however, has warned that cutting off liquor supplies risks the health of those dependent on alcohol, and may burden the healthcare system at the wrong time if those suffering withdrawal require help.
The Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk said its mayor and council urged residents to “abide by the prohibition and continue to practise self-distancing during this difficult time.
“The health and safety of our community is and always will be our first priority. Stay safe.”
Ten days at a time
Fifteen communities in the territory already have their own liquor restrictions or outright prohibitions.
In some cases, communities that only just voted to lift their restrictions are now trying to put them back.
Residents of Tsiigehtchic, for example, chose to remove liquor controls in January. Of the 38 people who voted in that plebiscite, 58 percent voted in favour of lifting all restrictions.
The NWT government on Thursday named Tsiigehtchic among the communities seeking a temporary prohibition.
Tuktoyaktuk lifted restrictions on beer and wine in 2017.
In both cases, community leaders said at the time the restrictions had proved ineffective and often led to irresponsible drinking and bootlegging.
The Liquor Act allows communities to quickly request temporary prohibitions “if special circumstances exist in the community that render it advisable to temporarily make the community a prohibited area.”
If the minister sees fit, they can immediately approve such a request. The order can never last for more than 10 days at a time. (Enacting permanent restrictions requires a community vote, and can’t happen in a community that has a licensed bar or restaurant or a liquor store.)
Contravening the temporary order carries a maximum fine of $2,000 and a possible 30-day jail term.
The NWT’s chief public health officer was set to declare additional pandemic-related measures on Friday, though none were believed to be related to liquor.