Sahtu residents worried about the increasing problem of alcohol abuse and its link to violence in the region had the chance to express their thoughts last week during a series of public hearings as part of the review process for a private member’s bill that would give Sahtu communities a voice in amending liquor restrictions.
The Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Government Operations is currently reviewing Bill 24, An Act to Amend the Liquor Act, brought forth by Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya earlier this year. The bill received its second reading in the House on June 6.
Bill 24 speaks to an incident in 2012 when a plebiscite narrowly lifted 40 year-old liquor restrictions in Norman Wells and voting was only open to the town’s residents, despite the fact that citizens from across the Sahtu use the Norman Wells Liquor Agency – the only liquor store in the region.
The new piece of legislation seeks to enable all Sahtu communities to vote in any plebiscite to determine if liquor sales should be restricted at the Norman Wells liquor store.
Public hearings – held in Deline, Tulita and Fort Good Hope – are part of the bill’s consultation process before the final report is presented to the assembly again in October.
“The hearings went well and were all well attended…(with) about 40 or so people for each,” Michael Nadli, chair of the committee and Dehcho MLA, said. “People are obviously concerned with the alcohol and drug problem and its growing rate. Basically that’s what people were expressing: the societal problems in their communities related to alcohol.”
Hearing in Norman Wells postponed
The committee cancelled its hearing in Norman Wells on Sept. 8 due to a tragic incident that took place in the town over the weekend. A teenage boy was found dead after a canoeing accident on Jackfish Lake.
“We offer our condolences to the family and to the entire community of Norman Wells during this difficult time and as a gesture of respect, the committee will reschedule the hearing on Bill 24,” Nadli said in a press release.
The meeting has been rescheduled for Sept. 26, Nadli said.
“We were due to be finished by Sept. 16, but we’ve now extended it,” he said. “We’ll be trying to have it tabled for the Oct. 17 sitting and, if not, we’re looking at another opportunity in January. It just depends how things go.”
As to the overall consensus from the hearings so far, Nadli said it’s too early to speculate.
“We still have to visit Norman Wells and hear all sides. I don’t want to draw any conclusions at this point. Our mandate is to review the legislation and listen to the public,” he said.
“It’s not just in the Sahtu, it’s an issue all over the Territories and communities are asking for help,” he added.
According to the NWT Liquor Commission, there was a 6.82 per cent accumulative increase in the litres of alcohol (wine, beer, spirits) sold from 2010/2011 to 2012/2013 in Norman Wells.
Additionally, a RCMP report shows 47 per cent of all police calls in Tulita in 2012 were alcohol-related. In Fort Good Hope, that number was 66 per cent, followed closely behind by Norman Wells at 52 per cent.
Earlier this year, Tulita saw a number of violent and criminal activities such as a double stabbing on Apr. 21 that left a man and woman with multiple wounds.
Additionally, 180 bottles of liquor were seized by Tulita RCMP in two separate incidents in April. In both cases, the alcohol was en route to the community via snowmobile. Tulita liquor restrictions draw the line at about three of those bottles (375-ml) or 1,140 ml of alcohol per person in their possession at any given time.