Could Cambridge Bay be the next community to open a beer and wine store in Nunavut? That was the question at a public meeting Wednesday night in the community.
About 50 people attended the meeting, held by the hamlet and the territory's department of finance, to hear how the government-run store would operate, before they vote on the idea in a plebiscite May 1.
It's been several decades since people have been able to walk into a store in Cambridge Bay and buy a case of beer, and the idea of a retail store is divisive. Many people at the meeting pointed to the long history of alcohol abuse in the community.
"We've got a generation that's growing up that didn't really know their mum or dad because their mum or dad were off at the party," said Harry Maksagak, who supports the store, but worries about the impact it will have.
"I think we're walking a very fine line because we're concerned with the binge drinking with hard liquor," he said.
"We want to cut this binge drinking down. We want to curb the bootlegging."
Rankin Inlet is also mulling the idea of a beer and wine store, and Iqaluit is full-steam ahead with its pilot store, which residents voted 77 per cent in favour of in 2015. In the legislative assembly in March, Finance Minister Keith Peterson said customers at Iqaluit's retail store will be limited to one case of beer or two bottles of wine at a time.
Store won't solve everything, minister says
Peterson was playing triple duty at the meeting Wednesday: he's also the MLA for Cambridge Bay and the minister responsible for the Liquor Commission and Licensing Board. He said the rationale behind the beer and wine store is that it will curb binge drinking.
"We all remember attending funerals of people who died of alcohol, the violence alcohol has caused," Peterson told CBC on Thursday.
"We're not foolish enough to think that we're going to solve the problems of drinking in Nunavut by opening a beer and wine store," he explained.
"But hopefully we can help people by providing low alcohol content beer and wine versus the 40 per cent alcohol content that most people are shipping in or getting from bootleggers."
Peterson says the idea came from public consultations held in all 25 Nunavut communities, as well as research done in Greenland and northern Quebec, where government-controlled stores reduced the amount of hard liquor that was being drunk and acquired illegally.
No treatment centre coming
Sarah Jancke attended Wednesday's meeting and says she supports the store, but thinks people's deeper issues need to be addressed.
"Regardless of whether there's a beer and wine store… the root of their issues is not alcohol. There is deeper seated issues that are causing them to find a way to self-medicate themselves," Jancke said.
"If they want to drink beer and watch hockey, let them. Let it become normal instead of having to hide and drink a 60 oz bottle and feel shame and guilt."
Jancke wants to see an increase in mental health services in the community. There are no treatment facilities for addictions in Nunavut — something Minister Peterson said is not going to change.
"We're not planning to open up a treatment centre," he told CBC, pointing to how big the territory is and a previous facility in Iqaluit that wasn't "well used or supported."
He said, instead, the government is focussing its attention on prevention and education.
People in Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet will head to the polls on May 1 to vote on the beer and wine store plebiscite. The final decision will be up to Nunavut's cabinet.