Behchoko ends temporary liquor ban introduced during pandemic

The N.W.T. community introduced a prohibition on liquor to encourage physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was lifted on Sunday.

Community introduced ban to encourage physical distancing during COVID-19 pandemic

Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels said he has no plans yet to extend a liquor prohibition introduced in early May. (Kirsten Fenn/CBC)

After nearly two months of prohibition, the community of Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., has ended liquor restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, Chief Clifford Daniels said the community of about 2,000 people was not considering another extension to the ban, which was introduced on May 9 and extended several times.

"We'll play it by ear, and see for ourselves how this plays out," he told CBC News. "If everybody complies and really behaves and respects one another, it's doable to keep it as it was — open. But we'll just have to wait and see."

Behchokǫ̀ is the largest Tłı̨chǫ community in the territory and is located just over an hour's drive from Yellowknife on the only route to the territory's southern border.

Residents routinely travel back and forth to Yellowknife, where the nearest liquor store is located, for shopping and to access essential services, Daniels said.

The ban was initially introduced to encourage physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he's seen positive change.

"We have noticed a difference in the community, especially underage drinking. That has slowed down," Daniels said.

"There's less partying happening in the community, there's less intoxicated people in public.... Alcohol is still getting through, but not as much as before."

A file photo of Behchokǫ̀ in autumn. The community is on the only route south from the territorial capital. (Curtis Mandeville/CBC)

The current prohibition expired on Sunday, and Daniels said he would need to call a special meeting and hear from councillors and community members before considering an extension.

He urged residents to remain respectful of one another even as liquor is reintroduced to the community.

"There are people that drink, and there are people that don't, and … some have really struggled with their addictions and recovered, and [we] still have some people struggling to this day," he said. "I just ask that those that do drink respect those that don't drink."

"Those that will be drinking, stay home," he said. "Respect your neighbours, respect the people around you."

Wary of eased restrictions

The end of the liquor ban comes amid a push from doctors and business leaders to ease restrictions related to COVID-19, including physical distancing.

Daniels said that may work for more remote communities, but not for Behchokǫ̀, where travellers and essential workers routinely pass through on their way to the capital.

"My community is right next to the highway," he said. "There's potential for my community that there could be some kind of outside contact.... That's why we're a little bit worried in our community."

Written by John Last, based on an interview by Lawrence Nayally