Sahtu leader calls for more liquor restrictions after N.W.T. announces shorter store hours

Liquor stores in the Northwest Territories will operate with reduced hours starting Monday, the N.W.T. Liquor and Cannabis Commission has announced. However, one Indigenous leader has concerns, saying booze leads to partying and gatherings that could spread COVID-19.

Stores may limit amount of customers and provide specific shopping times for seniors

A file photo of Yellowknife's uptown Liquor Shop. Liquor stores in the Northwest Territories will continue to operate with reduced hours. (CBC)

Liquor stores in the Northwest Territories will operate with reduced hours starting Monday, the N.W.T. Liquor and Cannabis Commission announced in a news release.

The changes are designed to "ensure staff availability throughout the COVID-19 response," the release reads.

Stores may also individually limit the amount of customers in the stores at any one time and provide specific shopping hours for seniors, "which is in line with the principles of social distancing."

Customers are being asked to respect the principles while in the stores.

"Should customer purchasing habits become a concern, individual stores will institute a size limit on purchases," the release reads.

The updated hours are as follows:

  • Yellowknife, Inuvik and Hay River: 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday;
  • Fort Smith: 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday;
  • Fort Simpson: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday;
  • Norman Wells: 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday to Thursday, and 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

The announcement comes as some grocery stores throughout Canada, which are also high-traffic retail zones, have increased their safety protocols and wages for staff.

Sahtu leader says booze leads to partying

But Charles McNeely, chairperson of the Sahtu Secretariat Inc., says liquor needs to stop flowing so freely into his region's small communities in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Every other place they're reducing their hours or closing," he said. "I don't see why we can't shut down the liquor store in Norman Wells." 

Charles McNeely, chairman of the Sahtu Secretariat Inc., called for more restrictions on access to alcohol in the region on Monday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Provinces across the country have been considering restrictions on liquor and cannabis stores. Prince Edward Island announced it would close its liquor stores last week, while Ontario and Nova Scotia announced shorter opening hours.

McNeely said his concern isn't so much with people buying alcohol — it's with the partying that starts up when they imbibe.

"Right now with … people drinking, they're gathering together — that's what we're trying to avoid," he said. "We've got youth staying with the parents, overcrowded houses. One person starts drinking out with a crowd, you might bring it home to your family. That's what we're trying to reduce."

McNeely said alternatively, having the Norman Wells store closed few days a week might help.

Commission says it's promoting staff safety 

In response to emailed questions about employee safety at liquor stores, the commission said it is making sure hand sanitizer is in stores, employees have gloves, and social distancing is encouraged.

The commission also said that it is working with store operators to make sure employees are aware of safety measures.

However, the commission said as employees in the territory are not its direct employees, it has no authority to mandate any change in wages for staff, as wage agreements are between workers and the individual store operators.

With files from Katie Toth