Nunavut gov't says Iqaluit Beer and Wine Store hasn't increased alcohol-related harm

The government of Nunavut says the Iqaluit Beer and Wine Store hasn’t led to an increase in alcohol-related family violence, emergency room visits, impaired driving or and youth alcohol use. 

Inuit underrepresented in store survey, 36 per cent of respondents

Minister responsible for the Nunavut Liquor Commission George Hickes says it wasn't a given that the Iqaluit Beer and Wine store would stay open permanently. (Beth Brown/CBC)

The government of Nunavut says the Iqaluit Beer and Wine Store hasn't led to an increase in alcohol-related family violence, emergency room visits, impaired driving and youth alcohol use. 

"There was no significant change in the percentage of family violence screens that involved alcohol compared to before the store had opened," the Nunavut Liquor Commission said, in an evaluation report posted to the government of Nunavut's website. 

These conclusions come via data from the departments of Justice and Family Services and the City of Iqaluit's recreation department, the report says. 

Data from Nunavut RCMP says alcohol-related crime has increased slightly. The society that runs the men's shelter says more men are turned away at the shelter for intoxication since the store opened in the fall of 2017 — with 90 people turned away in 2018 and 243 in 2019. 

"Responses from the Agvik Women's shelter indicate a connection between alcohol consumption in general and some abusers, but no particular link to the Nunavut Liquor Commission store," the report says. 

The long-awaited evaluation of the three year pilot project came at the same time as the government announced the store will be a permanent fixture in the capital.

The report would have been tabled during the spring sitting of the legislature, if there had been one, said Minister responsible for the Nunavut Liquor Commission George Hickes. 

The decision couldn't wait until a fall sitting, he said. 

In March, a public survey was done as a last kind of needed consultation before making the store permanent. Three quarters of the roughly 800 people who took the survey voted in favour of keeping the store. But, Inuit were underrepresented in the survey, with 36 per cent of respondents identifying as Inuit. 

Hickes said he wished more people had taken a public survey, but said it was widely advertised and made available online and by paper. 

"I would have liked to have seen more people contribute. It is people's choice," he said. "In some ways silence is consent. If people didn't feel the need to contribute to put in an opinion one way or another it can be taken to me as a positive."

Closing the Beer and Wine Store was always considered, he said. 

"This wasn't a rubber stamp process," Hickes said.   

Rankin Inlet Beer and Wine Store coming this fiscal year

Another Beer and Wine Store will open in Rankin Inlet this fiscal year, Hickes said, maybe in the fall but by spring at the latest. 

The government wants to open a store in Cambridge Bay within a year, but does not have a warehouse or staff in that community already, like in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. 

Personal alcohol sales in Iqaluit have increased during the pandemic, but Hickes said this doesn't offset lost revenue from bar closures.

The Beer and Wine store in Iqaluit is open permanently. The government is losing money from alcohol sales because bars are closed, but public purchases have gone up following COVID-19 closures. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Any profits made from the Beer and Wine Store go into general government revenue, he said, adding that the government spends much more on mental health and addiction support than on beer and wine sales. 

The Nunavut Liquor Corporation said in a release that it spends $500,000 annually on responsible alcohol education. 

The store itself is considered by the government as part of harm reduction efforts, by making low content alcohol available at standard prices, to cut down on bootlegging and consumption of hard liquor. 

Hickes said prohibition is difficult for governments to enforce.

"The biggest challenge is keeping the message separate, the Beer and Wine Store versus alcohol in general," he said. "Having the Beer and Wine Store was to give people a healthier alternative." 

The commission is considering opening the Iqaluit Beer and Wine Store on Mondays. The store is currently closed on Sundays and Mondays, except for a new seniors-only shopping time introduced on Mondays because of COVID-19. 

The Finance Department, which is responsible for the liquor commission, wants to build a larger warehouse in Iqaluit as well, to help cut down on the amount of alcohol that has to be airlifted between shipping seasons. 

To order hard liquor or larger alcohol limits than the daily Beer and Wine Store quota, Rankin Inlet residents must also order through Iqaluit's liquor warehouse, even though there is a warehouse in Rankin Inlet. 

The same is true for Iqaluit residents, who must order from Rankin Inlet. Hickes called the rule "inefficient" and "cost prohibitive," and said it was being reviewed.