Nunavut hamlet votes to limit alcohol sales | Polarjournal
To limit, or not to limit, that was this hamlet’s question (Photo: Destination Nunavut)

Nunavut’s Liquor Act grants the territory’s 25 hamlets the right to decide for themselves how they want to regulate access to alcohol. Residents are allowed to vote on whether sales of alcohol are unrestricted, restricted or prohibited. For now, Kugluktuk (pop 1,491) is still one of the six hamlets that does not limit how much alcohol residents can purchase. That, though, is due to change after a vote on Monday in favour of a measure that will bring the hamlet more into line with the majority of the territory’s communities by setting limits on how much booze people can buy.

The system will take a few months to set up, but, once it is in place, the fortnightly limit will be 1.775 litres of spirits and one of either 17.04 litres of beer (48 x 355ml cans) or 3.75 litres of wine (5 x 750 ml bottles). The limits will be nothing new for Kugluktuk; hamlets may vote every third year to change their liquor laws, as long as there are at least 20 people who sign a petition to hold a referendum, and the hamlet undid its previous restrictions back in 2018. Flip-flops of this nature are not common, but the reimposition of regulations in Kuglutuk comes after an alcohol-related killing in 2017 reinvigorated discussion about alcohol abuse that has motivated three similar votes dating back to 1999.

The research supports limiting alcohol sales in places like Nunavut, where communities that do not limit alcohol sales experience twice as many violent crimes as those that do. Practitioners and activists, however, caution that a ban cannot stand alone. Some, including Simon Kuliktana, Kugluktuk’s mayor, warn that limits on sales can be undermined by bootleggers and home distillers, and argue that, to be effective, they the need to be coupled with community programmes that address the mental health issues that lead alcohol abuse in the first place.

While changing alcohol rules is not common, voting on whether to do so is: since 2019, six other hamlets — Arviat, Baker Lake, Coral Harbour, Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, Sanikiluaq — have also considered changes to their regulations. None of them successfully. In some cases, a majority was in favour, but in order for regulations to be changed, 60% of voters must be in favour.

Kugluktuk’s measure passed by a two-thirds margin, but with only 38% of eligible voters turning out. That is far lower than the 68% who voted in 2018 and the 65% who voted in a 2013 referendum that ended with no changes to the rules that were in place at that time. In general, low turnouts are common in votes to change liquor laws, however. Kugluktuk was the exception that changed the rule.

Nunavut’s 25 hamlets are divided into three categories of alcohol regulation
Unrestricted — Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Grise Fiord, Iqaluit, Kugluktuk*, Rankin Inlet, Taloyoak
Restricted — Arctic Bay, Cape Dorset, Chesterfield Inlet, Clyde River, Hall Beach, Igloolik, Kimmirut, Naujaat, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuaq, Resolute Bay, Whale Cove
Prohibited — Arviat, Coral Harbour, Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, Pangnirtung, Sanikiluaq
*Voted on 16 May to change status to “restricted”

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal

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