Attitudes to alcohol changing in Prince Albert after strategy to address 'crisis': police

Eighteen months after a strategy was created to address what was being called an “alcohol crisis” in Prince Albert, Sask., there are reports that the city’s drinking culture is changing.

'We also need to take a look at our culture,' says strategy committee spokesperson

On Monday, the City of Prince Albert participated in an event called No Alcohol Day. (Shutterstock)

Eighteen months after a strategy was created to address what was being called an "alcohol crisis" in Prince Albert, Sask., there are reports that the city's drinking culture is changing.

A plan released last April called for change to address higher than usual levels of alcohol-related crime, disturbing trends between youth and alcohol, and health issues.

Researchers who prepared the plan concluded that the city had a culture of tolerance toward alcohol misuse.

On Monday, the City of Prince Albert participated in an event called No Alcohol Day.

Progress update

Robert Bratvold, the spokesperson for the committee following up on the strategy, delivered a presentation on what has changed since the strategy was introduced.

His group has been encouraging Prince Albert residents to think twice about whether alcohol is a necessary part of their celebrations, such as staff parties.

"We also need to take a look at our culture of acceptance and expectation that alcohol is there and around and commonly available," said Bratvold.

"And say, 'Hmm, is that something we want to sustain or is that something we want to shift?' I'd suggest it's something we want to shift."

Small changes encouraged

Bratvold said he is already seeing an increased awareness of the impacts of alcohol in his community.

More people are talking about their own role in changing the culture surrounding alcohol, he said, adding that the change could be as simple as choosing not to take liquor to a dinner party.

Bratvold said there are currently no new reliable statistics to support his observations.

In terms of addictions treatment and prevention, he said there are efforts to secure funding for a program that would provide additional family support.  

Between 2011 and 2012, people spent more money on average on alcohol every year in Prince Albert than other Saskatchewan communities. (Prince Albert and Area Community Alcohol Strategy)

City hall plays a role

Prince Albert Police Chief Troy Cooper said he has also noticed a change in attitudes in the past 18 months, giving city council as an example.

He said councillors were giving more thought to decisions that affect liquor consumption in the city.

"They have that discussion about, 'Do we want to increase access to alcohol here?' And that discussion would not have taken place five years ago," said Cooper.

"I think it was something that we didn't see that we had a role as a community in playing, that it was simply a business decision.

"And it's not, it's a community decision."

Cooper said there was a direct link between the rate of violent crime in the city and the availability of alcohol.  

Liquor limits would help: Chief of police

He would like to see more limits on the sale of alcohol, including restricted hours and limits on the amount allowed to be sold, but he is not pushing for a full prohibition.

"From a perspective of a police and enforcement and public safety view only, the more limits we can have on alcohol sales the better that the community will be," said Cooper.

"But of course that's not very realistic and you have to consider the many people who want to have access to alcohol."

Committee's work to date

The City of Prince Albert outlined some of the work that the steering committee has completed since the release of the strategy last April.

It said a networking and information session was attended by more than 50 people in September last year.

The committee has also been making presentations to clubs and associations, such as the chamber of commerce, to help them understand the strategy and align their efforts with its vision of having a healthier community.

"Safe ride home" discount coupons have also been provided in conjunction with Prince Albert taxi companies, and the committee has been working with Prince Albert Addictions Awareness Committee and MADD Prince Albert.