From Behchoko to La Ronge: Lessons on liquor restrictions from years of experimentation
'In our case it just seemed that it just wasn’t working,” says Behchoko, N.W.T., Chief Clifford Daniels
Problems with enforcement, increased pressure on the court system and the possibility of people turning to drugs could be among the challenges for La Ronge, Sask., if it introduces liquor restrictions, according to the Chief of a Northwest Territories community with a long history of liquor restrictions.
Clifford Daniels is the Chief of Behchoko, N.W.T., a Tlicho community that has had various forms of liquor restrictions and prohibitions over the years.
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"We've seen the fair share of prohibitions and having rations and then having it open," said Daniels.
"I'd say it is a challenge for every community and in our case it just seemed that it just wasn't working."
The Northern Alcohol Strategy committee last week released 49 recommendations on how alcohol should be sold in La Ronge, about 380 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
The committee was tasked by the Saskatchewan government with suggesting ways to prevent "alcohol-fuelled harm and crime."
Trying some of these things has worked for other communities.- Colleen Davison, assistant professor of public health, Queen's University
The recommendations include prohibiting alcohol sales at bars and stores on Sundays, statutory holidays, month-end paydays and Canada Child Benefit payment days.
They also recommend limiting bar hours to 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., and liquor store hours to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The beer and wine store at the hotel is currently open until 3 a.m., Monday to Saturdays.
In December 2016, Behchoko voted to lift a full prohibition on liquor in the community.
Enforcement a challenge in N.W.T.
Behchoko has no bars or liquor stores, but is located about an hour's drive from N.W.T.'s capital city, Yellowknife. Daniels said there simply were not enough police resources in his community to enforce the prohibition.
He said the ban increased the number of fines, charges and court dockets, but binge drinking and alcohol abuse continued.
Daniels said he believes the proposed La Ronge rules will help reduce public intoxication and binge drinking initially, but he predicts people will start finding ways to get around the changes.
"They might start, I would say, stockpiling or turn to other substances and those things will happen but, you know, if there is a will there's a way," said Daniels.
Daniels also warned that enforcement that leads to police charges can make it harder for those with convictions to find employment in the future.
Trial and error
Daniels said public intoxication in Behchoko has increased since the ban was lifted. Although he does not believe previous liquor restrictions were effective in his community, Daniels said the community had not ruled out trying different restrictions in the future.
"Everybody is trying to find a way and I think as people try things, I think we all learn what's been tried and what hasn't and every community is different and unique, too," said the Chief.
Colleen Davison, an assistant professor of public health at Queen's University, has been researching liquor restrictions in Behchoko and other communities in the N.W.T.
Davison said research into the success of liquor restrictions was limited but it appeared that partial restrictions had helped reduce adolescent binge drinking in some communities.
She said the benefits appeared larger in communities that banned alcohol altogether, rather than those "damp" communities with restrictions or rations.
Use science as a solution, says researcher
Davison said there were also questions about whether booze restrictions led to increases in drug usage.
In La Ronge, she said it was important that any decisions on liquor restrictions were informed by science and evaluation.
"Trying some of these things has worked for other communities," said Davison.
"So it's worth trying some of them and being pretty vigilant about understanding if it's working or not within the six to 12 month range."
Davison added that the restrictions might help improve some community alcohol problems and not others so the outcomes should be assessed individually.