New liquor restrictions in N.W.T. limit purchase to $200 per day

Liquor stores across the Northwest Territories now bear signs on their front doors that say they will no longer sell more than six 375-millilitre bottles of spirits or $200 worth of alcohol a day.  

Individuals can buy no more than six 375-millilitre bottles of spirits each day

A lineup outside a Yellowknife liquor store on April 9. Strict physical distancing protocols led to lineups outside both of the city's liquor stores before the long weekend. Now, the government of the Northwest Territories is limiting how much liquor an individual can buy each day. (Walter Strong/CBC)

People in the Northwest Territories now have limits on how much alcohol they're allowed to buy each day. 

Liquor stores in Yellowknife, Hay River, and Inuvik now bear signs on their front doors that say they will no longer sell more than six 375-millilitre bottles of spirits or $200 worth of alcohol to one individual per day.  

Each of the signs attribute the restrictions to new regulations from the territorial government.

This sign is posted on the door of the liquor store in Hay River. New liquor restrictions came into effect Thursday, and include limiting people's purchases to $200 a day. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

According to a press release from the territorial government Thursday, the restrictions apply to liquor stores in Hay River, Yellowknife, Inuvik, Norman Wells and Fort Smith.

They do not apply to the liquor store in Fort Simpson because, according to the release, that community has already put liquor restrictions in place.

The territorial government did not immediately answer questions from CBC, but the restrictions are now included in the territory's Liquor Act regulations under section 115.

"The restrictions we have put in place support the [N.W.T. government's] balanced approach to managing alcohol in our territory," Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek states in the release. 

"These purchase restrictions are meant to ensure that residents will continue to have access to alcohol in those communities that permit it, while making it more difficult for bootlegging activity that takes advantage of vulnerable residents."

The release also states if an individual buys one bottle of alcohol that, on its own, costs more than the $200 limit, that purchase would be exempt from the restrictions. 

In a different memo posted to Facebook Thursday by some MLAs and the Yellowknife Downtown Liquor Store, Wawzonek said: "It is critical that we respond to the needs of residents and communities in a manner that does not put undue strain on our health-care system."

Ed Eggenberger, who owns the two liquor stores in Yellowknife, declined an interview at his downtown shop on Thursday, but said bottles of alcohol worth more than $200 are exempt from the restrictions. 

Fort Simpson restrictions

In the release, the government outlined what the restrictions are in Fort Simpson.

Customers there are limited to the purchase of any of these combinations:

  • Three 375 ml containers of spirits and 12 containers of beer,
  • Three 375 ml containers of spirits and two bottles of wine,
  • Two bottles of wine (maximum 2 litres) and 12 containers of beer, or
  • 24 containers of beer and one bottle of wine.

Indigenous leaders support change

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said he's pleased with the restrictions, which the Dene Nation first called for two weeks ago.

He said he spoke with Premier Caroline Cochrane on Wednesday, and feels the territory is willing to work with the Dene Nation — despite the two-week delay between his call for restrictions, and the actions announced Thursday. 

"I want to say mahsi cho Premier Cochrane for your leadership and hearing our concerns," he said. "Alcohol and cannabis abuse are making it harder for our communities to battle against COVID-19." 

Now, the Dene Nation is researching how best to support people who are dependent on alcohol. Yakeleya floated several ideas for how to do that, including phone counselling, on-the-land programs with elders, and programming for families. 

Yakeleya expects to have a detailed proposal for the territory within the next two weeks. 

Charles McNeely, chair for the Sahtu Secretariat Inc., says the restrictions will help prevent bootlegged alcohol from getting into small communities. 

"We're meeting halfway — that's a good sign," he said. "At least we're showing the people that we're trying."

Acho Dene Koe First Nation band manager Boyd Clark says the First Nation also supports the restrictions, adding that addictions and bootlegging are problems in the territory "irrelevant of a pandemic ... that [need] to be examined further."

Clark says the territorial limit on alcohol buying is a "positive sign," though he says the primary source of alcohol in his community comes from British Columbia. 

Clark says law enforcement is still working to better secure that border.


  • This story has been clarified to say that the new restrictions are on 375-millilitre bottles of spirits.
    Apr 16, 2020 4:46 PM CT


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Dene Nation called for a ban on all alcohol sales. In fact, it called for restrictions.
    Apr 16, 2020 3:35 PM CT

With files from Katie Toth and Alex Brockman


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