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EDITORIAL: Liquor laws fuelling bootlegging in NWT


A survey reviewing the NWT’s Liquor legislation is currently online and seeking public input.

Two pieces in this week’s edition relate to the current Liquor Act here in the NWT. In one story, an air locked hamlet that restricts liquor struggles with alcohol disrupting bingo. In the other, the Mad Trapper is looking to shift its hours. The owner also hopes to be in business on Sundays for two more months.

Earlier editions of the Inuvik Drum feature many stories following RCMP reports. One subject we’ve been following carefully is the subject of bootlegging. We know this problem is happening, by account of the cases RCMP deal with outside of available liquor hours.

A common thread our court coverage is the main catalyst of criminal activity in Inuvik is alcohol. Just about every conviction we write about in our docket briefs has a link to alcohol. If these laws are supposed to keep alcohol away from addicts, they’re failing miserably.

As mentioned, RCMP are unable to deal with the bootlegging happening throughout the Delta because no one is reporting it. Obviously, if the only beer you’re getting on Sunday is from a bootlegger, you’re not biting the hand watering you. A few communities have some dedicated eyes to enforcing their liquor rules — Fort McPherson in particular reports the occasional bust. But they’re the exception that proves the norm.

Similarly, three out of five jamborees were alcohol-free events, but empties found afterwards suggest people largely did as they pleased. And there were no incidents other than not cleaning up their litter — likely because having empties would imply guilt.

On the Mad Trapper’s quest to stay open a few months longer in the year, Coun. Clarence Wood notes concerns about drunks on Sunday never came to surface. If anything, notes owner Richard Adams, having a legitimate place to get a drink may be reducing bootlegging in town.

Certainly access to liquor through the bar can lead to problems. But the bar can also monitor behaviour and phone police if things get out of hand. A house party fuelled by illegal liquor is far less likely to do that.

In fairness, I come from a place where you can walk 50-metres in any direction and find a liquor store. Saturating the Delta in booze isn’t going to make anything better, but the current laws create business opportunities for bootleggers.

Limiting access in dry and restricted communities is a workable idea. But the GNWT needs to give more resources to enforcing liquor restrictions and fewer restrictions on the central hubs. Banning liquor sales on Sundays is not preventing people from selling liquor on Sundays.

If the GNWT loosened rules around liquor stores and licensed establishments, it will cut into the bottom line of bootleggers. That will force bootleggers to move their business. Smaller communities with dedicated community watches and police departments can better enforce liquor bylaws. Stop punishing the responsible drinkers and focus on the actual problem.

Regardless, these are your liquor laws and NWT residents should have their say. Whether you agree with the points in this column or not, please give the government your input. Visit to complete the survey.

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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