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City of Iqaluit supports beer and wine store staying open past pilot project

Iqaluit city council narrowly passed a motion to indicate its support to the government of Nunavut to keep the beer and wine store open. The motion sparked a lengthy debate among councillors dividing them on what to do.

Motion narrowly passes, sharply divides council

The Iqaluit beer and wine store three year pilot project will be up in September. This summer, Nunavut's finance minister will make a final decision whether the store will continue. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Iqaluit city council will encourage the territory to keep the beer and wine store open after the pilot project ends in September. 

At a city council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Kenny Bell cast the tie-breaking vote in support of a motion he brought forward to indicate to the Nunavut government the council's support for the store. 

Three years ago, the beer and wine store opened as part of a harm reduction campaign to reduce the amount of hard alcohol residents consume. It is the only retail store in Nunavut that sells alcohol. 

This summer, Finance Minister George Hickes will make a final decision if the store will continue.

Motion divides councillors 

The motion raised by Bell divided the council on what to do, with half in support of the store and half against it staying open. 

Coun. Joanasie Akumalik would like to see the store closed. He said there is too much alcohol related violence in the community and the government of Nunavut opening the Iqaluit damp shelter is proof of over consumption. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

The most outspoken councillor against the motion was Joanasie Akumalik, who would like to see it closed. He said there is too much alcohol related violence in the community and the government of Nunavut opening the Iqaluit damp shelter is proof of over consumption. 

"People are [consuming more] alcohol in this community and that also affects the smaller communities who visit to Iqaluit," Akumalik said. 

"They get drunk and then they have no home. They end up in the damp shelter. I think the government needs to realize that." 

But Coun. Malaiya Lucassie and Kyle Sheppard feel the store is beneficial to cutting back bootlegging in the community. Both referenced a bust in Apex in early May where more than $5,000 worth of hard alcohol was seized by the RCMP. 

"[Bootlegging] is far more detrimental and causing far more harm in our community with the hard alcohol than we are seeing with the beer and wine store," Sheppard said. "I would definitely support keeping the store open as is."

Lucassie said that alcohol related problems are not an issue specific to Nunavut and would like to see the RCMP put their efforts toward cracking down on bootlegging. 

"There is always going to be some people who can't drink and there is always going to be some people who can contain their drinking. It's all over the world, it is not just Inuit," Lucassie said. 

Iqaluit's beer and wine store opened in Sept. 2019. (Nick Murray/CBC)

A recent public survey conducted by the government of Nunavut showed that 75 percent of residents who responded wanted to keep the store open. Over half of them called the store's impact on the community either neutral or positive. 

Bell had to break a tie vote in favour of the beer and wine store staying open. 

Coun. Akumalik, Simon Nattaq and Solomon Awa voted no. While Coun. Sheppard, Lucassie and Deputy Mayor Janet Brewster voted yes. 

Coun. Sheila Flaherty abstained from voting wanting more information in writing first.

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