Nunavut hamlet bans alcohol to encourage physical distancing

The Nunavut hamlet of Grise Fiord is temporarily banning alcohol in the normally unrestricted community because of COVID-19. The ban is already in effect. It runs from May 5 to May 18 and again from May 21 until June 3. 

Grise Fiord bans consumption, purchase and sale of liquor for most of May

The shoreline of Grise Fiord, Nunavut. Alcohol is banned in the community for most of this month until June 3. A fine for breaking the ban is between $500 and $5,000. (High Arctic Haulers/CBC )

The hamlet of Grise Fiord, Nunavut, has temporarily banned alcohol because of COVID-19. The ban runs from May 5 to May 18, and again from May 21 until June 3. 

A municipal resolution says the special prohibition bans the consumption, possession, purchase, sale or transport of liquor within the community of around 130 people. 

Disobeying the order is a criminal offence and can lead to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $5,000, or a jail sentence of up to 30 days, or both.

The hamlet — Canada's most northern community — made the decision to ban alcohol to encourage physical distancing, interim Mayor Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko told CBC News. 

Grise Fiord, located 1,500 km northwest of Iqaluit, is Canada's most northern community. (CBC)

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are trying to help people from being together with the social distancing. And so there's no real gatherings anywhere including drinking, because some groups, they become bigger groups," she said. 

"There's no ordering and there's no getting together."

Grise Fiord is one of seven unrestricted communities in Nunavut, meaning that alcohol is not regulated. The rest of the territory's communities are under some kind of restriction. 

Communities in Nunavut have the ability to determine their own liquor restrictions.

Grise Fiord, like all other communities in Nunavut, is fly-in only. Currently, two flights a week are running to the hamlet. 

An alcohol ban the same as winter holidays

The hamlet applied to use the same ban on alcohol that is used by some municipalities at Christmas time.

Hamlets are allowed to apply three times each year to the Department of Community and Government Services for a two-week prohibition. 

The hamlet left two days, May 19 and 20, between each of the two bans to make sure that the allowable two-week period was clearly defined, Audlaluk-Watsko said. 

With all other gatherings cancelled and only essential services open, Audlaluk-Watsko said gathering for social drinking shouldn't be allowed. 

She said residents usually respect the ban when it's on during the winter holidays. 

"I'm really hopeful this prohibition will be taken seriously," Audlaluk-Watsko said. 

The council wanted to see the community do more physical distancing, so it would be ready in the event that COVID-19 did come to Nunavut.

"We thought this was a good time to help practice, in the community, to take our own social distancing measures," she said. 

Last week, a case of COVID-19 was announced in Pond Inlet, but was later found to be a false positive test. 

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut.

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