Alcohol law in need of revamp in Kahnawake

After 10 months, a moratorium on granting alcohol permits in Kahnawake has been lifted, the Alcohol Beverages Control Board (ABC) announced this month.

The board decided to pause the granting of permits for much of 2023 after their demands for compliance officers went unheeded by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), ABC chairperson Michael Stalk, Sr., said. However, he said they’ve decided to lift it now that the MCK has promised to make it a priority to work with them to better enforce compliance with the local alcohol law.

“We have a commitment from Council that it’s going to be worked on as soon as the new year,” Stalk said.

Even though the Court of Kahnawake has the jurisdiction to enforce the law and penalize permit holders not following it with fines, in practice that never happens. That’s because there’s yet to be any compliance officers appointed to the board, explained MCK chief Tonya Perron, who holds the justice portfolio.

“If you don’t have a compliance officer, it’s pretty hard to do the enforcement piece,” she said.

Kahnawake’s alcohol law sets out a number of responsibilities that permit holders must comply with to reduce the risks associated with drinking. They include having bartenders attend server training offered by Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) twice each year, as well as leaving ample room for emergency vehicles to assess the establishment.

Those selling alcohol are also banned from advertising campaigns that promote binge drinking, such as drinking tournaments.

Stalk said the board has currently been relying on the Peacekeepers to speak to individuals they believe aren’t complying with the law, but that the police force is limited in how it can respond.

“I think the Peacekeepers are in a position that is difficult because our court is not set up yet to deal with people who are in contravention to the (alcohol) law,” Stalk said. “The Peacekeepers are caught in between jurisdictional issues right now, and have been for a while.”

Stalk said moving forward there will also be more investigations opened by the board into permit holders refusing to comply with the law. Once the compliance officers are added to the board, Peacekeepers will mainly only be relied on to crack down on those caught selling alcohol without an approved permit.

He said the 10-month moratorium was also necessary because the board needed more time to focus on drafting amendments to the alcohol law.

“We were looking at trying to get more tools to be able to deal with the permits in regards to funding through the Council,” Stalk explained. “We needed to work on the law, change some regulations – things for us to be able to operate more efficiently.”

Last week, MCK chief Mike Delisle met with the board, who said a lot of their issues come down to understaffing. There’s a need for more administrative assistance and also more training for board members, he was told.

“I’m glad that they have lifted it,” the chief said about the moratorium. “The reason they did that is because they need help. They require political support.”

He said the community’s gaming commission already has compliance officers that go out on a daily basis for inspections, Delisle said, so there’s no reason the alcohol board shouldn’t be doing the same.

At least two entrepreneurs have applied for an alcohol permit since the moratorium was lifted in mid-November. They include Robbie Dickson of Dickson Golf, as well as Kerry Goodleaf of River Run Poker, both located on Highway 138, according to notices recently shared by the board.

“There were several people who had intentions of applying once the moratorium was off,” Stalk said, saying those will be dealt with at their board meeting set for next week.

Miriam Lafontaine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door