Local food vendors are being forced to limit their Arctic Market appearances after a recent change in the interpretation of a food permit legislation has reduced the number of days they are allowed to set up shop.
The change in the understanding of the temporary food establishment permit came into effect on Jan. 1, when the territorial chief environmental health officer’s interpretation of the legislation shifted from a two-week renewable permit to one that allows for only 14 participation days throughout the entire year.
“Our Inuvik health officer in the last two years has been issuing food establishment permits both for the winter and summer, never once indicating that there was a limitation,” said Jackie Challis, the director of economic development and tourism at the Town of Inuvik.
Challis added that she found the sudden change to be arbitrary, and has no clues as to where the switch in the interpretation of the legislation came from.
“When I spoke to the territorial health officer, he said its because we doubled our market but that’s not true,” she said. “He meant by doing the winter and the summer, but we’ve doing it for the last two years… we’ve never had it be an issue before.”
The annual Arctic Market began six years ago as a summer program in which local artisans and chefs would sell their goods every Saturday from June through September. The addition of the market’s winter season two years ago has allowed participants to operate twice a month from January to May.
“It’s important because it provides an opportunity for people who may or may not normally have access to selling something or making some money,” said Challis. “It allows artists, crafts people, local people to sell their arts, crafts and baked goods to make extra money.”
She said that the change to the legislation not only puts a limit on the vendors, but it also limits the diverse set of options in the market.
“We’re not trying to limit opportunities, we’re trying to actually provide them. The market has really grown,” she said. “In the early days, we maybe had one or two people selling goods but now you go and it’s almost like a fully established food court with five to 10 different food vendors.”
The most recent Arctic Market on Feb. 2, according to Challis, only had two vendors, who are now using their market days wisely.
“Vendors have to pick and choose. They’re not happy. They also don’t understand,” she said. “If the intent of the food permit is to ensure safe food handling processes, we don’t understand why there’s a limit.”
She added that she’s hoping to work with the territorial government soon to come to a resolution, as she anticipates more low turnouts for future markets.
“I do want to work with the GNWT to see what we can do to move forward. They’re interpreting it one way and we’re interpreting it this way,” she said. “We just need to move forward so that we can find a solution.”
Challis said that the market has developed into a community space that has established a regular clientele, and the plan is to nurture attendance and promote growth.
“It’s a place where people can go, especially in the winter time when it’s dark and cold. People come out and see each other, and that has a lot of value,” she said.