Behchokǫ̀ announced a 10-day liquor prohibition on Saturday, banning the consumption, purchase, sale, or transportation of liquor within 25 km of the community’s sportsplex.
Chief Clifford Daniels said action was needed because groups were drinking together into the night and ignoring physical distancing measures during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It was too much for the community,” Chief Daniels said.
He attributed at least some of the problem to an influx of money into the community from federal and territorial support payments related to Covid-19.
The federal government has created an emergency response benefit worth $2,000 per month for those who lose jobs or income because of the pandemic. Last month, the NWT government provided income assistance claimants with one-off emergency payments of between $500 and $1,000.
“You have some extra money and there’s not too much to do with it,” said Daniels, “so some use it as a coping mechanism to drink.
“You had individuals or groups of people that would be drinking together and going from one place to the other. Late in the evening it would be a little rowdy sometimes.”
Daniels on Monday told Cabin Radio things “seem to be a little better” two days after the prohibition began. “It’s a little quieter,” he said.
The community had a liquor ban until 2016, when residents voted to lift the restrictions.
‘We’ll play it by ear’
Chief and council will listen to feedback from residents about the prohibition before deciding whether to apply for an extension.
Temporary prohibitions like this one can only be granted for 10 days at a time under the NWT’s current liquor laws. This one is due to expire on May 18.
Caroline Wawzonek, the NWT minister responsible for liquor laws, has advocated for the temporary prohibitions as a way for communities to control liquor consumption during the pandemic. They have also been used in Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic, and Tulita.
Groups like the Dene Nation had expressed concern about both bootlegging and the effect of alcohol on compliance with physical distancing.
Last month, in response to those concerns, Wawzonek imposed a limit of $200 per day on liquor purchases at most NWT liquor stores, with a daily maximum of six mickeys of spirits per person. (Fort Simpson’s liquor store, which already operated under a similar of set of restrictions, was not affected.)
Daniels said he would consult the local RCMP detachment, which had received “quite a few calls” in recent days, before reaching any decision on renewing the prohibition.
“If things are getting better, we’ll play it by ear and see how things go – and we’ll see how bad it is with the RCMP,” he said.