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Beer store meeting prompts words of sadness and caution from Iqaluit elders

At a public consultation on whether to open a beer and wine store in Iqaluit, elders gave lengthy testimonies on the harms of alcohol. Just three people out of about 150 who attended spoke in favour of the idea.

'It's as foolish as meeting in this tiny room,' says Rev. Mike Gardener

Iqaluit beer store meeting hears overwhelming 'no' 2:32

A public meeting in Iqaluit last night to talk about opening a beer and wine store was a sobering one, with lengthy testimonies from elders about the harms of alcohol. Some said Iqaluit’s last liquor store 40 years ago was the pilot program, and it failed.

“We are still in pain,” said Jeetaloo Kakee. “I want to wring peoples’ necks. I’m still so angry about what happened in the 1970s.”

Aalasi Joamie also recalled that time. “Our people fell,” she said.

"If it were up to me I'd close all drinking establishments," said Seepa Ishulutaq.

Saila Kipanik spoke about his children and the future for them with alcohol, as well as the abuse that comes with alcohol.

“I’ve seen too many problems,” said Elisapee Quassa, who talked about the “social distress” caused by alcohol.

No hard liquor, GN emphasized

It was standing room only, with about 150 people packed in the conference room where the meeting was held.

Deputy Finance Minister Chris D'Arcy began the meeting by displaying several bottles of bootlegged vodka.

Several elders recalled life in Iqaluit in the 1970s, before the liquor store closed. 'Our people fell,' said Aalasi Joamie. (Vince Robinet/CBC)
“This is what came out of the boarding home,” he said.

The government argues a direct-sales model could help curb binge-drinking and bootlegging by selling beer and wine — and not hard liquor. Similar models have been implemented in other parts of the world, such as Greenland.

D'Arcy says, under the proposed plan, people could purchase 12 beers and two bottles of wine a day.

Long-term Iqaluit resident David Wilman said opening a beer and wine store and continuing to issue liquor permits for hard alcohol could be “explosive.”

“You’re asking for trouble with that kind of combination," said Wilman, who spent two years visiting 20 communities as part of the Government of Nunavut's Liquor Task Force.

'As foolish as meeting in this tiny room'

Others spoke words of sadness and caution in personal stories.

Beer and wine were on display at the event. (Vince Robinet/CBC)
“If you’d seen and heard what I’ve seen and heard, this would be a no brainer,” said Wes Smith. “I think I’m a strong man, but there’s times I still sit down and cry for what I’ve heard.”

Lew Phillip, a former RCMP officer and past warden of the Baffin Correctional Centre, warned that Iqaluit’s transient population wouldn’t see the problems left behind by the proposed store.

Rev. Mike Gardener said he had buried too many people due to alcohol, and liberalizing beer and wine sales would be a bad idea.  

“It’s as foolish as meeting in this tiny room,” he said.

3 in favour

Lew Philip takes a sip just before the meeting begins. The former warden of the Baffin Correctional Centre, warned that Iqaluit’s transient population wouldn’t see the problems left behind by the proposed store. (Vince Robinet/CBC)
Markoosie Arsenault-Papatsie was one of just three people who spoke in favour of opening a beer and wine store.

“Obviously the liquor establishments aren’t going away anytime soon,” he said. “Neither are the bootleggers.”

Janet Brewster did not deny the harms of alcohol abuse, but says it's time for people to be more responsible.

“Denying people the opportunity to make healthy choices and model healthy choices to their children doesn’t make sense to me.”

Last night’s meeting was not intended to make any decisions. The information gathered from the public will be taken back to cabinet for further discussion.

The proposed beer and wine store would not open before summer 2015.

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