N.W.T. announces alcohol restrictions to curb bootlegging

Residents in the Northwest Territories have new rules to follow when purchasing alcohol at liquor stores during the pandemic lockdown.

Customers can only spend up to $200 per day and only purchase six mickeys (375 ml each) of spirits per customer.

“Alcohol and its availability is an important issue for all northerners,” said Caroline Wawzonek, the territory’s finance minister in a statement. “These purchase restrictions are meant to ensure that residents will continue to have access to alcohol in those communities that permit it, while making it more difficult for bootlegging activity that takes advantage of vulnerable residents. “

On April 16, the N.W.T. Association of Communities shared a memo from Wawzonek on its Facebook page.

In an effort to snuff out bootlegging operations Wawzonek noted in the memo that the move would “encourage responsible consumption, not to supply parties or gatherings.”

The restrictions apply to liquor stores in Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik and Fort Smith, but do not apply to Fort Simpson as the community already has specific liquor restrictions in place.

In the last two weeks N.W.T. RCMP seized alcohol in Fort Providence, Fort Good Hope and Fort Liard.

Indigenous leaders have spent weeks calling for restrictions on alcohol during COVID-19.

Figure 1 Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, Grand Chief of Gwich’in Tribal Council has been advocating for liquor restrictions during COVID-19 to help with physical distancing and tackle bootlegging.

Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, Grand Chief of Gwich’in Tribal Council took to social media to plead with bootleggers to stop.

“The bootleggers are hiking their prices during this pandemic. To me this is just unethical, to take advantage of the most vulnerable all year long and then take even more advantage is wrong,” Greenland-Morgan said.

Out of the four communities that make up the Gwich’in Settlement region, only one has a liquor store. APTN News has heard of bootleggers raising prices to as much as $120 per mickey since the pandemic began.

“I’ve always wanted to see more restrictions, accountability on account of the GNWT and the liquor board. In terms of accountability I would like to see them monitor more how much alcohol is being sold,” she said.

On April 4 Dene Nation put forth a motion for the territorial government to restrict alcohol sale and find funds to help individuals manage alcohol withdrawal.
Greenland-Morgan said she’s advocating for an alcohol symposium with leaders from across the north to take place this year.

“Alcohol and the effects of alcohol has been a problem for First nations not just in the NWT but across Canada for the past 100 years. The GNWT need to put more investment into the health and wellness and recovery aspect for our people. I think it is a big eye opener for the territorial government,” Greenland-Morgan said.

On Apr. 9, Wawonek told media that the government would not implement any territory-wide restrictions on the purchase of alcohol.

“We are monitoring what the usage is. We are looking at people’s consumptions and trying to figure out a balance between restricting the abusive behaviours while not interfering with responsible consumptions,” she said during the press conference.

APTN asked her why the territorial government was taking weeks to respond Indigenous leader’s requests for alcohol restrictions.
Wawonek told media the government had to consider which method to restrict alcohol by – volume or dollar.

“If there is a way to restrict alcohol such that it would discourage bootlegging that would be a target for us. If it is a matter of restricting alcohol to a degree that it pushes people to return more frequently, more often to liquor stores to be out of their homes more frequently than that’s not accomplishing the primary goal right now which is to ensure the healthcare system’s capacity and keep people at home,” she said.

Prior to the pandemic the territory had 15 communities that had either a ban or restriction on alcohol.

Waronek noted that communities have the power to place temporary prohibition orders and are encouraged to look over their police priorities agreements during COVID-19.

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