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Beer war brews

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (July 04/05) - Angry beer drinkers are threatening legal action against the Government of Nunavut over a ban on bulk beer imports.

A group has collected 80 signatures on a petition and have set a deadline for the government to bow to their demands.

Liquor import permit costs

  • Spirits: $3.75 a litre
  • Wine: $2.00 a litre
  • Beer: $0.56 a litre
  • Coolers: $0.59 a litre

    - Data from application form for an imported liquor permit

    Liquor sales in Nunavut from
    April 1, 2003 to March 31, 2004

  • Beer: $2,659,000
  • Spirits: $799,000
  • Wine: $207,000
  • Coolers: $7,000

    - Data from financial statements of the Nunavut Liquor commission for the year ended March 31, 2004

  • "The group has a lawyer in place and we're ready to go on June 30," said Stu Kennedy, a member of the ad-hoc group.

    For more than 20 years, Kennedy and others ordered beer directly from the breweries. Now, the territory is forcing them to buy an import permit or buy from them.

    "You can't give something to people for 20 years and then just take it away," said Mike Twerdin, one of the petition organizers.

    The territory made $186,000 on liquor permits and $435,000 on import fees between April 2003 and the end of March 2004.

    Liquor sales in Nunavut are big business. The territory sold $3,672,000 worth of liquor in the same fiscal year, for a profit of $1,873,000.

    April 28 was the day the direct beer orders died. That day, Patrick Galbraith - director of Nunavut liquor management - held a conference call with Molson officials.

    In an e-mail later that day, Galbraith told Molson, "We wish to confirm that residents of Nunavut may not purchase alcohol directly from a brewery."

    Galbraith wants the beer drinkers to follow the rules in the Liquor Act. "People can obtain a liquor import permit," Galbraith said.

    With a permit, you can purchase directly from southern liquor stores, at liquor store prices. The advantage in buying direct, though, is getting the wholesale rate from the brewery.

    The Liquor Act does not state that it is illegal to buy directly from a brewery. It doesn't say it's legal either, it has simply been the practice.

    Galbraith says that he asked Molson to stop shipping the beer after getting legal advice from the territory's lawyers.

    "I have letters from our Justice department to send to Labatts and Sleemans, saying that they can not sell directly to consumers in Nunavut," Galbraith said.

    "My interpretation is that if the Liquor Act does not say that you're allowed to do it, you are not allowed to do it," said Galbraith.

    Molson is following the orders.

    "We have to be compliant with all the rules and guidelines in any jurisdiction. We were compliant and now the rules changed," said Babita Khunkhun, Molson's manager of public relations.

    Booze flight

    Residents can order liquor from the Nunavut government but their beer will be well-travelled, part of the government's plan to make getting alcohol more difficult.

    To order liquor in Iqaluit, it has to be flown from the Rankin Inlet warehouse. To order in Rankin Inlet, it comes from the Iqaluit warehouse.

    Under the system, the airlines charge a shipping fee for every bottle of beer, scotch or vodka that makes the trip.

    Canadian North charges $2.93 per kilogram to ship alcohol. First Air charges $2.90.

    "To sell liquor or beer out of the warehouse in Iqaluit (to people in Iqaluit) would be a store operation," Galbraith said.

    Nunavut doesn't have any liquor stores, and letting people order from their community's warehouse is too close to a store, said Galbraith.

    They could follow Galbraith's advice and obtain a liquor permit from the territory. Then they could have alcohol shipped from southern liquor stores, at liquor store prices. Liquor permit prices range between $3.75 a litre for spirits to $0.56 a litre for beer.

    "If you get a two-four from the brewery, it's 14 or 15 bucks, it costs more from the beer stores. The government knows that," said Twerdin.

    To order 24 beer from the government warehouse costs $54.78.