Sahtu communities press for changes to Liquor Act

Last night, about 40 people attended a public meeting in Norman Wells to talk about what the change would mean for them.

Want input into setting restrictions at Norman Wells liquor store

CBC's Alyssa Mosher reports from Yellowknife 2:00

Some people in N.W.T.'s Sahtu region are hoping a proposed change to the territory's Liquor Act will help solve alcohol problems in their communities.

The proposed change to legislation governing the Sahtu region would give every community a say on the restrictions at the liquor store in Norman Wells.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya speaks at a public meeting in Norman Wells on proposed changes to the N.W.T. Liquor Act. (CBC)

Norman Wells has the only liquor store in the region. In December 2011, people in Norman Wells voted to lift its ration system that set a limit on daily purchases​After that, sales of spirits at the Liquor Agency jumped almost 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, leaders in alcohol-restricted and alcohol-prohibited Sahtu communities say alcohol problems have gotten worse. 

Last night, about 40 people attended a public meeting to talk about what the change would mean for them. 

"I've seen young people driving into my community in the winter time with a case of mickeys and they're selling those at 60 bucks a pop," said Alvin Orlias, Chief of Colville Lake. "They're leaving my community without even looking back and seeing what the consequences of their actions are."

Tara Hodgson brought a purple folder full of testimonies from youth in the Sahtu

"Since the ration system has been lifted, two deaths of youth citizens of the Sahtu have occurred. Alcohol was involved in both," she read from one letter.

Most of the letters were in support of the potential change to the Liquor Act and many Sahtu youth said they'd like to see the liquor restrictions brought back to the liquor store in Norman Wells. 

But some people say that shouldn't be up to people living outside the town.

"The Norman Wells liquor store is not a regional business," said Dee Opperman with the Norman Wells Chamber of Commerce. "It is a private industry in Norman Wells and thus can't be regulated by a regional decision."

Some say the change to the Liquor Act could set a dangerous precedent for other regions in the Northwest Territories. 

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya says the concern that other regions may try and do the same thing is irrelevant.

"The Sahtu communities are pretty well evenly populated," he said. "You look at Behchoko and Yellowknife, Yellowknife's got 20,000 people, so many thousand people that can out-vote Behchoko, Gameti, all those surrounding communities."

A committee of MLAs will now write a report about what they heard from the Sahtu communities they visited. Then, Yakeleya will have a look at the report and make any final adjustments to his bill to change the Liquor Act.

It will be tabled in the N.W.T. legislature next month. 


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