Gjoa Haven voters choose to stay dry
“It’s very difficult to move ahead with wholesale change”
Residents of Gjoa Haven voted in a Dec. 14 plebiscite to maintain prohibition which means the import and sale of alcohol remains prohibited in the western Nunavut community of about 1,300 people.
Voters in Gjoa Haven had to choose whether their community should maintain its current system, which prohibits the possession of any alcohol, or move to a restricted purchasing system under an alcohol committee.
About 400 voters cast ballots Dec.14 and another 50 in an advance poll Dec. 7. Of the group, 218 voted in favour of the change, and 232 against.
The end result appears close, although any plebiscite requires 60 per cent votes cast in favour for a change to be binding.
“We want to ensure the will of the community to go from one system to the other,” said Chris D’Arcy, deputy minister of finance, which oversees the Nunavut Liquor Commission.
“As everyone knows, the liquor regime in the territory is a very sensitive issue,” he said. “It’s very difficult to move ahead with wholesale change.”
That’s made clear in the results of plebiscites held in Nunavut communities throughout 2014 and 2015, all which resulted in keeping current systems in place.
In early 2014, Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet and Kugluktuk all gauged local interest in loosening alcohol restrictions but in the end, all three voted to keep restrictions on alcohol imports.
Later in the year, residents of Taloyoak went to the polls to decide if their community should move to an alcohol committee system, a proposal voters rejected in the end.
And in September 2015, Cape Dorset voted to keep its alcohol education committee, rather than moving to an unrestricted system.
“There’s been no change in the last several plebiscites,” D’Arcy said. “Why the status quo is perpetuated in these last few plebiscites? It’s kind of a community-by-community thing. It’s a very sensitive, delicate issue.”
Another alcohol-related plebiscite took place in Nunavut this year, in Iqaluit, although that vote wasn’t held under the territory’s liquor act, D’Arcy noted.
On April 20, Iqalungmiut voted in favour of the idea of a strictly controlled wine and beer store in their community, although the vote was non-binding.
But the Government of Nunavut says that pilot project won’t move ahead until 2016.
Iqaluit is one of five communities in Nunavut, including Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet, Taloyoak and Grise Fiord, that operates under what’s called an unrestricted system, which allows any resident of legal drinking age to order alcohol from outside the community, or purchase it locally.
Across the territory, the committee system is the most common one used in Nunavut, with alcohol education committees set up in 15 communities across the territory.
Under the Nunavut Liquor Commission, those committees have the power to decide:
• who can consume, possess, purchase or transport liquor in the community;
• who may import liquor into the community;
• the amount of liquor that a person may possess, purchase, transport or import in the community; and,
• who may apply for a permit to make their own wine or beer at home and the amount that individual is permitted to produce.
Following the plebiscite, Gjoa Haven remains one of six dry communities — where alcohol is completely prohibited. The others include Arviat, Coral Harbour, Kugaaruk, Pangnirtung and Sanikiluaq.
Communities that wish to gauge the community’s support for moving to a different system must produce signatures from 20 registered voters in order to trigger a request.
That request is then sent to the department of finance for final approval by the minister.