Northern Canadian community adjusting to end of liquor ban

Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels says the community is still adjusting to life without a liquor ban. (CBC)
The chief of Behchoko (Indigenous community in the Northwest Territories) says there have been more public disturbances related to alcohol but fewer appearances on the court docket since the community’s liquor ban was lifted over a year ago.

“Obviously just due to having the change there’s less court dockets,” said Clifford Daniels. “Less people being charged for having liquor in a prohibited area.”

Daniels said there has been a slight increase in DUIs and mischief, but he said “I think that’s the whole process. It’s just due to adjusting to changes.”

Behchoko residents voted in 2016 to lift the ban on alcohol in the community. Daniels said over the last few years it has shifted from total alcohol prohibition, to alcohol rationing, to lifting the ban.

“I think it was very hard for the community to adjust,” he said.

Daniels said lifting the prohibition has made it easier for outsiders coming into the community, because it’s brought Behchoko in line with “the norm of Canadian laws” and some outsiders had struggled with the ban.

‘We can’t control everybody’

Statistics from the RCMP also show a significant decrease in Liquor Act charges, and an increase in mischief, public intoxication, and disturbances — mostly related to alcohol.

From January to May 2016, there were 385 calls to police related to the Liquor Act. During the same time period in 2018, there were only 46.

Meanwhile, there were 658 calls about public intoxication, disturbances, and mischief from January to May in 2016, and 801 calls in 2017

“As leaders in the community, we can’t control everybody,” said Daniels. “It’s really up to the individuals to behave within the laws that we have.”

Daniels said there was also a spike in calls related to alcohol last year during the Tlicho assembly, held in Behchoko. But he said this was largely caused by others coming into the community.

Education is key

Daniels said education is key to ensuring the community is adjusting to the change. He said he’s encouraging the RCMP to talk about alcohol with students, which is something they have always done.

The Tlicho government is also trying to integrate alcohol awareness into its wellness programs.

The community currently doesn’t have a bar or liquor store. Daniels said the idea has been suggested, but nothing has been brought to council yet.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: To sell or not to sell? The penultimate question about alcohol in Northern Canada, Radio-Canada

Finland: Finland’s alcohol consumption declines by 15%, YLE news

Sweden: Gender stereotypes behind high suicide rate, Radio Sweden

United States: Drinking, smoking consumption in decline, but suicide plans on the rise among Alaska teens, Alaska Dispatch News

Jamie Malbeuf, CBC News

Jamie Malbeuf, CBC News

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