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The issue: Liquor limits
We say: Politics at best

Crime is nothing to make light of, but it was difficult to view the smash and grab at the downtown Yellowknife liquor store over the weekend as anything but a punchline to the joke that was the daily limit on liquor purchasing imposed less than 48 hours earlier.

As longtime Yellowknifer Lydia Bardak wrote in a letter to MLAs (and posted on social media), it’s difficult to imagine a $200 per day per customer limit on booze buying having any effect on the well-established and time-weathered bootlegging network in the NWT, much of which spindles out from the capital into other small communities.

She also pointed out that in Yellowknife, the limit is effectively doubled because one person could easily pay a visit to both stores. So, since the curtailment was announced last Thursday, any individual with enough cash on hand could legitimately be sitting on $2,800 worth of alcohol as of this morning (Wednesday, our print day). If they have a partner, that’s $5,600.

Factor in the 50 to 100 per cent or more in markup a bottle sees before it’s sold on the black market, and that’s not a bad week’s work.

Bardak, a former city councillor and executive director of the John Howard Society for the NWT, is an advocate for Yellowknifers experiencing homelessness. She pointed out the century of experience Canada has with the folly of prohibition.

She also noted that severely addicted alcoholics will turn to over-the-counter products like cough syrup and wonders rhetorically whether there are any plans to regulate such products.

She also quite correctly ends with a call to our leaders to focus on the root causes of addiction.

The call to limit liquor by the Dene Nation stems from the very real frustration communities are feeling when it comes to excessive drinking and all the associated social ills that brings, including domestic violence and family neglect.  

National Dene Chief Norman Yakeleya sought action from the territorial government and after initially being rebuffed, doubled down and persisted. He was under considerable pressure as most Indigenous leaders in the territory were also calling for restrictions. 

Justice Minister Caroline Wawzonek was likewise feeling the heat. So it was no surprise she would reach for a compromise with the $200 a day limit, which allowed Yakeleya to claim victory while also taking the pressure off the justice minister who controls the liquor board. 

The only problem with the liquor limits, as noted earlier, is that their effectiveness as a social remedy – pandemic or no pandemic — are bound to be marginal and really were only effective at turning down the political temperature. 

What the territory needs most of all is a long-term solution that addresses the root causes of alcoholism, as Bardak suggests, and focus on community wellness – education, jobs and opportunity – so that people don’t fall into the trap of dysfunctional boozing.

 

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