Police removed several people they suspected were intoxicated from a public meeting about the fate of the alcohol ban in the Innu reserve of Natuashish, Labrador.

Natuashish's new chief, Simeon Tshakapesh, suspended the 2008 bylaw banning alcohol in the community after he was elected in early March.

Days later, he backpedalled and instead called for a public discussion to address grievances about the prohibition.

The alcohol ban has been divisive since it was first enacted two years ago. The vote at that time was held in public at the community gymnasium, with supporters of the ban standing on one side of the room, and opponents on the other. In the end, the ban passed by a narrow margin.

Speaking at the meeting Tuesday, Labrador Innu Nation Grand Chief Mark Nui argued the ban should be maintained.

Nui attacked Natuashish's new band council for trying to suspend the bylaw despite police figures showing that crime has dropped off in the community since the ban began.

"Now, it's picking up again," Nui said shortly after police removed some people from the meeting on suspicion of public intoxication. "As you can see, there are a lot of people drunk today."

Natuashish resident George Gregoire Sr. spoke out against the ban.

"The bylaw is like forcing people to stop drinking; that's not going to work," he said. "You can't force anyone to stop drinking."

The people of Natuashish will be given an opportunity to vote on Friday in a referendum on whether to keep the community dry, Tshakapesh announced.

Substance abuse has been a chronic problem for Natuashish residents for many years. The community was founded in 2002 after residents left Davis Inlet, a village that became internationally notorious after images of children from the community sniffing gas were broadcast around the world.