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Iqaluit mayor presses finance minister for tougher liquor restrictions

Kenny Bell says the minister and his department have failed to adopt policies to limit the amount of hard liquor that is allowed imported into the territory
Finance Minister George Hickes says the territory’s system for controlling liquor imports is very outdated and “would benefit from significant modernization.” (Nunatsiaq News file)

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell criticized Finance Minister George Hickes Tuesday, saying that the minister and his department have failed to adopt policies to limit the amount of hard liquor that is allowed imported into the territory.

Bell made the comments during an RCMP report to city council on Tuesday, where Staff Sgt. Robert Gallant outlined that 63 per cent of calls for service in May involved alcohol-related incidents.

“Every mayor in Nunavut wants the Government of Nunavut to limit the amount of hard liquor they allow imported into the community,” he said. “And the Government of Nunavut has still done nothing.”

At a Nunavut Association of Municipalities meeting a year ago, community mayors passed a motion calling on the GN to restrict large amounts of alcohol being brought into the territory.

“This has not happened and I don’t understand why,” said Bell, who is the president of the association.

“Hard liquor is killing all of our communities across Nunavut. All of the mayors have said this, this council has said this,” Bell said. “We need them to listen.”

In an email to Nunatsiaq News, Hickes said he recognizes the harm alcohol causes in the territory and also that many Nunavummiut consume it responsibly.

“Our main concern is not so much about the total volume of liquor flowing into the territory, but instead about what happens to the product once it gets here — where it goes, who it goes to, and how people consume it,” he said.

Hickes said the issue has “been on our radar for some time” and that he and the department are considering ways to cut down on large imports.

“I appreciate it can be hard for people outside government to see what goes on here behind the scenes,” he said. “However, lots needs to happen before we make regulatory changes like restricting quantities of imports.”

The government does not want to limit “someone restocking their home bar or bringing up a year’s worth of wine on sealift,” he said, but extreme imports.

More, Hickes said the government needs to take into consideration each community’s individual liquor laws.

In Arviat and Coral Harbour, for example, alcohol is prohibited, as per the most recent community plebiscite in November 2020. In Baker Lake, the community voted this past spring to keep its unrestricted system for alcohol purchases.

Bell said he wants laws in place by the time the current territorial government is done, but Hickes said he can’t promise that as there are too many moving parts.

“I can commit that my officials and I will do what we can to actively move this file forward,” he said.

“Our whole system for controlling liquor … has not been updated in decades and would benefit from significant modernization,” Hickes said, adding that the government has begun reworking the legislation.

— David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News