North

A beer and wine store in Iqaluit? Northerners debate

A public meeting is set for tonight in Iqaluit to discuss whether to open a beer and wine store in the city. Ann Hanson, Bryan Pearson and Tagak Curley weighed in recently on CBC's The Current.

Public meeting Tuesday at the Frobisher Inn

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A public meeting is set for tonight in Iqaluit to discuss whether to open a beer and wine store in the city.

Ann Hanson, Bryan Pearson and Tagak Curley all weighed in during a recent debate on CBC's The Current.

The Frobisher Bay Liquor store was open for 15 years. It shut down in 1975 after the death of a young boy in a snowmobile accident. The liquor store was blamed for a total of 49 deaths.

Ann Hanson, former commissioner of Nunavut, says she remembers the first death.

Bryan Pearson says opening a beer and wine store in Iqaluit won't change the 'phenomenal' amount of liquor already being consumed in the capital. (CBC file)
“It was an elder and people were very, very distraught,” she says. “And from then on, it kept happening. It wasn’t just the deaths. It was the violence and disruption of families. That’s what I remember.”

Hanson campaigned vigorously to close the liquor store. She says the eventual closure led to immediate change.

“People were walking around the community enjoying their families again.”

‘The amount of alcohol consumed in Iqaluit is phenomenal:’ Bryan Pearson

Long-term northerner Bryan Pearson has started several businesses in the city and served as mayor. He says there was good reason to close the liquor store at the time.

“However, I would suggest that the amount of alcohol consumed after the liquor store closed didn’t really change that much,” he says. “Where there’s a need, it’s available.”

Former MLA Tagak Curley is against opening beer and wine stores in Nunavut. (CBC)
He says bootlegging is an incredible business in the community, and the problem has only gotten worse now that people have more money — often ready cash, and no opportunity to put it in the bank.

Pearson says a lot has changed in the 60 years that he’s been in the community.

“The amount of alcohol consumed in Iqaluit today is phenomenal and I really don’t think it’ll make that much difference,” Pearson says. “We are not children and there comes a time when people have to take responsibility.”   

‘Bootlegging will increase:’ Tagak Curley

Former Rankin Inlet MLA Tagak Curley opposes the idea. He says a beer and wine store will create more work for the courts and the police.

“Bootlegging will increase for the outlying communities,” he says. “That’s what I foresee.”

Curley also says there is a need for alcohol treatment programs in the North.

“There is really no support. There are no treatment centres in communities. Absolutely nothing," he says. "Right now people who are seriously interested in getting some help normally have to go outside of the territory to seek help.”

Pearson says some of the profits from a beer and wine store could be channelled into a northern treatment centre.

Hanson also wants to see more treatment options available in Nunavut.

She also wants to know what resources would be in place to protect people from the fallout. For example, safe shelters for women and children to go in the face of alcohol-fuelled violence. 

Nunavut could have made $400K in alcohol sales in 2014

So far, there’s been little discussion of how much revenue alcohol sales could bring to the Nunavut government.

Right now, people get a permit, pay a fee, place their order then pick it up at airport cargo days later.

“If we had sold it ourselves in 2014, we would have made an additional $400,000,” says Chris D'Arcy, deputy minister of Finance.

The Government of Nunavut would have made $300,000 each of the last four years if it were allowed to sell beer and wine through direct sales.​

D’Arcy says right now, most of the revenue for liquor sales goes to outlets outside of Nunavut.

Over the last four years, the number of liquor permits issued in Iqaluit has increased from 5,700 in 2011 to more than 9,000 in 2014.

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