Natuashish booze ban cancelled: new chief

The newly elected chief of a Labrador Innu reserve with a tragic history of substance abuse intends to reverse a controversial ban on alcohol.

The newly elected chief of a Labrador Innu reserve with a tragic history of substance abuse intends to reverse a controversial ban on alcohol.

Simeon Tshakapesh, who won an election in Natuashish late last week by just 15 votes, ordered the RCMP in the community to stop enforcing liquor bylaws that came into effect in 2008.

Tshakapesh said voters gave him a mandate to end the prohibition on bringing alcohol into the community.

"The bylaw has to be erased," Tshakapesh told CBC News.

"That's what the community wishes to do and that's what we're going to do."

However, Sgt. Wayne Newell, who speaks for the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador, said Monday the alcohol ban is still in effect. He said a process must be followed for it to be removed, and that the chief of Natuashish cannot unilaterally remove it.

Newell said the RCMP would like to see the alcohol ban remain in place.

"There's been a reduction of approximately 40 per cent of crimes that have been reported in Natuashish and approximately 48 per cent less crimes against persons," said Newell. "So, all types of crimes such as assaults, common assaults, domestic violence, assault causing bodily harm, robberies, sexual assaults, all those types of things, have been down almost half."

The ban followed a controversial public vote at the community gymnasium in 2008, when supporters of an alcohol ban lined up on one side, and their opponents lined up on the other.

Tshakapesh said that with no secret ballot, the plebiscite was invalid. He also said the goal of the bylaw — to reduce rampant substance abuse problems in Natuashish — was not working.

"Since the bylaw is here, there's a lot of bootlegging going on, there's a lot of drug-dealing going on," he said.

"People are constantly drinking every Friday night."

Fewer suicides during ban: former chief

Prote Poker, the defeated chief who had championed the liquor ban, said the prohibition measure had produced strong results in the community. He said the new chief should consider the better school attendance, fewer criminal charges and a drop in the suicide rate over the prohibition period.

Natuashish was settled in late 2002, when residents relocated from the long-troubled island community of Davis Inlet. Social problems there, including rampant alcohol and drug abuse, particularly among young children, had attracted international media attention.

Poker said the ban had helped turn around decades of deteriorating social conditions.

"We were averaging, I think, what, six deaths per year as a result of suicide and alcohol-related deaths, and since the ban we only lost three people," Poker told CBC News.

"The ban itself probably saved nine lives. It's scary for me. I'm scared for the kids."

Poker, meanwhile, on Sunday accused supporters of Tshakapesh of handing out free marijuana during the election, trying to sway voters. Tshakapesh said the allegation is untrue.

Tshakapesh said the new council will look at the addiction and suicide statistics, but that he was elected to get rid of the alcohol ban, and the prohibition is now over as far as he's concerned.