Limitless liquor orders a recipe for bootlegging, MLA says

Iqaluit-Manirajak's MLA says frequent large orders from the territory's own liquor warehouses are red flags for bootlegging.

Some municipalities are calling for purchasing limits on hard alcohol orders

Iqaluit Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone says the government's own system for purchasing alcohol could be contributing to bootlegging. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Iqaluit-Manirajak's MLA says frequent large orders from the territory's own liquor warehouses are red flags for bootlegging. 

"There are currently very few limits on the amount of alcohol that residents living in unrestricted communities can order at any one time," Adam Arreak Lightstone said in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. 

"This makes it all too easy for bootleggers to repeatedly place orders for large volumes of hard liquor for the sole purpose of resale to vulnerable people."

Some municipalities are calling for purchasing limits on hard alcohol orders. That's according to a June 2020 resolution from the Nunavut Association of Municipalities asking for these limits, tabled by Arreak Lightstone last week. 

Nearly a year later, the MLA wants to know what is being done now to limit illegal alcohol sales. 

"What specific actions has this government taken since then to address these concerns," he asked. "Has there been any development on the regulations on the sale of import permits or how the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission sells to customers from across Nunavut."

The Minister Responsible for the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission George Hickes agreed that even for communities where alcohol is allowed, regular large orders cause concern for both the government and law enforcement.

But not all large purchases are a problem, he said. 

"We run into scenarios where some people legitimately purchase their alcohol for the year through a sealift, so that's one large bulk order versus people who are making order after order after order and it may equal a similar amount at the end of the year," he said.  

As well, current legislation leaves limited options for how to impose purchasing restrictions, Hickes said. 

"We have three options within a community of restricted, unrestricted and prohibited," Hickes said. 

In Nunavut, communities can apply to be unrestricted in their alcohol purchasing, or to put some restrictions on how alcohol is purchased by residents. In other communities, labelled as prohibited, alcohol isn't allowed at all. 

Alcohol is ordered from two warehouses located in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. 

Hickes says the territory wants to hear what concerns residents have with how alcohol is accessed in Nunavut — like this connection between large orders and bootlegging flagged by the municipalities — because the Nunavut Liquor Act is being reviewed now.

"This is an excellent example of an issue that we need to get feedback on so that we can target legislative changes in the new liquor act as it comes into force," he said. 

For now he says the territory is working with Nunavut RCMP on ways to track and identify when alcohol is being purchased from the government with the intention of illegal resale, or bootlegging. 

"I don't want to jeopardize some of those practices to be discussing publicly all the measures that we are taking, but I do want to highlight that this is just one avenue that alcohol flows into the territory through the legal means," he said. "There are also illegal means, especially in restricted communities or in prohibited communities." 

For liquor going into prohibited communities, Hickes says the territory is also working with Canada Post to find ways to stop the flow of illegal alcohol.  

A social responsibility committee that talks about issues like the overuse of alcohol has been unable to meet because of COVID-19, he said.