The community of Behchoko is applying for another extension of a prohibition on alcohol after completing 10 days of being dry.
The temporary prohibition order came into effect May 9 at the behest of Chief Clifford Daniels and band council with the hope of stemming alcohol consumption during the Covid-19 pandemic. The measure must be approved by the territorial government, which is now looking at the community’s application for an extension.
The move comes as RCMP report a seizure of alcohol from two separate vehicles over two days, May 12 and 13. The initial temporary prohibition order came into effect May 9, two weeks after a fatal vehicle accident claimed the life of a female passenger. Alcohol was believed to be as factor in the accident.
Chief Daniels spoke with NNSL Media on Thursday and reiterated a common complaint that chiefs of the Dene Nation have been expressing, especially since the pandemic began in mid-March.
“We’re taking all the precautions that the chief public health officer has implemented and I think the only thing we’re kind of struggling with would be the alcohol issue,” Daniels said. “We did put a temporary prohibition in place (May 9) and just today (May 14), we’ve requested to the Minister of Finance for another 10 day extension.”
Other Tlicho communities have permanent bans on drinking, but Behchoko is the only one of the four -Gameti, Whati and Wekweeti being the other three – to have lifted prohibition in recent years.
Daniels said the increase in drinking in recent weeks is similar to what NNSL Media has heard from other community leaders: that with more federal money being made available to members during the pandemic there has been more demand for alcohol.
“I think the cause of that sudden influx of drinking was due to all the extra funds that were available,” he said. “There have been lots of public concern and I know that myself and council have gotten calls from people saying there’s just too much noise in the community and lots of people drinking.”
Daniels said he has heard that in some cases youth in the community are starting to drink alcohol which adds to his concern.
“We’ve had the discussion over time and we figured it was time to pull the temporary prohibition in place,” he said.
Daniels said he thinks the ban has led to some improvements since it was put in place, but he will have a better idea when the second 10-day period is complete. He has been skeptical over his political career that prohibition will drastically change behaviours around alcohol and that public education methods are more effective.
In 1976 Behchoko, then Rae-Edzo, was the first community in the territory to enforce prohibition. By 1990 the alcohol policy had been removed. It was reintroduced in 2009 and then removed again in 2017.
“I’ve been involved in politics since 1999 and during that time I’ve seen the prohibitions in the community, I’ve seen rations in the community. I’ve seen it open and closed in the community. It doesn’t really seem to make a difference. ”
Daniels said bootleggers will find a way to get booze into the community or people will go beyond the hamlet’s 25 km boundary to drink with family and friends.
“I’ve seen all these things out and prohibition doesn’t really work. I think it’s education gradually over time. People then start managing how they drink and behave when they’re consuming alcohol.”
He said communities with prohibition have to devote resources to ensure that people are following the rules. In other cases, people get charged when all they want is to have the same right of having a beer and watching the hockey game just like the rest of Canada.
Daniels said he understands the Dene Nation’s approach to trying to limit liquor sales to protect communities and agrees with other chiefs that the Covid-19 pandemic adds to the level of seriousness around alcohol policy. This includes the latest complaint about the GNWT allowing take-out delivery of alcohol to people’s homes from restaurants and bar establishments to help boost employment.
But he has been pleased with the GNWT’s leadership through the pandemic, too.
“You’ve seen some other countries and other places (close liquor sales) due to the COVID-19, but other places really have it worse than we do than here in the North,” he said, noting that the GNWT deserves thanks. “We don’t have a pandemic spreading and I think it’s just due to the rules that are in place in there and that everybody’s abiding and being very cautious.”