Iqaluit mayor wants beer and wine store closed until more mental health supports are in place

Kenny Bell says he plans to launch a petition for a plebiscite vote on the store’s future

Kenny Bell, pictured here in October 2020, announced Tuesday he is resigning as mayor of Iqaluit. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

Iqaluit’s mayor says he wants the city’s beer and wine store to close.

Kenny Bell said he plans to launch a petition to hold a plebiscite vote in the city to close the store, which opened in 2017.

Bell announced his plans to city council June 14, saying he’s already been in discussion with Nunavut’s Department of Finance on how to word the petition.

Under Nunavut’s Liquor Act, a petition needs 20 signatures before it can be submitted to the Finance Department and considered for a plebiscite vote.

“Our city is in real disarray with safety specifically because of drunkenness,” Bell said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.

He said he wants to see the store close because he believes the GN not only isn’t doing enough to curb violence, but also isn’t regulating how much liquor people can import through the store.

“They’re just collecting money right now,” Bell said of the GN’s Finance Department.

Nunatsiaq News reached out to the Department of Finance for comment on Bell’s initiative, but didn’t hear back by deadline.

Bell also said until an addictions and treatment facility is built in Iqaluit and there are more mental-heath supports and services in place, the store should shut down.

“Giving us access to alcohol with no support is a major problem,” Bell said.

“If you want to order 1,000 bottles, you can order 1,000 bottles. You just pay a fee and you’re good to go. That’s unbelievably ridiculous.”

Plans to build an addictions and trauma treatment centre were first announced in 2019 and the building is expected to be complete at some point in 2024.

Iqaluit’s beer and wine store launched as a three-year a pilot project in 2017. At a 2020 city council meeting, Bell broke a tie and voted to support the store after councillors found themselves deadlocked on a vote over whether it should stay open permanently.

Bell said he wishes now that there had been a plebiscite vote instead of a council vote over whether to keep the store.

“I believe the citizens who are consistently complaining about the violence and the drunkenness in town should have a say over whether they want that beer and wine store open or not,” he said.

Seventy-five per cent of more than 800 respondents to a 2018 survey on whether to keep the store open also supported its continued operation.

A 2020 report from the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission said the Iqaluit beer and wine store had not led to an increase in alcohol-related family violence, emergency room visits or impaired driving.

Data from Nunavut RCMP included in the report said alcohol-related crime increased slightly since the opening of the store.

The Uquutaq Society, which runs the men’s shelter, said in the report more men were turned away at the shelter for intoxication since the store opened, with 90 people turned away in 2018 and 243 in 2019.

This isn’t the first time Bell has criticized the territorial government for its handling of liquor restrictions in Iqaluit.

At a city council meeting in 2021, he criticized the finance minister and his department for having failed to adopt policies to limit the amount of hard liquor that is allowed to be imported into the territory.

Bell, who previously worked for the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission as the territory’s chief liquor inspector, said he still supports having access to alcohol in the community, but wants to see it be more regulated.

“I still believe the premise of the beer and wine store is smart and still should happen,” he said.

“But we need to interject in what’s going on right now.”


Share This Story

(45) Comments:

  1. Posted by I would sign the petition on

    I agree with Kenny, the community needs more supports. It doesnt help that some departments in the government are sitting on propals for such programs without awarding contracts, and cancelling RFP’s for mental health supports…

    • Posted by Whatisgoingon on

      Mental Health Department, CGS and Family Services department need to be held accountable as to why RFPs aren’t being processed and people aren’t accessing programs that are desperately needed in this territory.

      There are a lot of people who are getting kickbacks down South from getting individuals from the territory when the Government has made it clear that people should get services right here at home.

  2. Posted by Think About It on

    Open the store to everything and then stop the importing permits. If some one wants a bottle of whatever vodka, rum, etc. Let them order from the B&W store but limit the quantities to a reasonable personable consumption rate.

    • Posted by Outsider on

      I totally agree that the import permits should be changed, we all agree that the Alcohol can do some damage, but everyone needs to decide on their own to drink and not to drink and if we are going to drink we all need to learn how to control.
      I totally disagree that the petition to close down the beer and wine store though, if the B & W should close down it will bring in more the good old Vodka! No matter what you do people will find ways to bring in the Alcohol. I think we just need to keep educating how to control Alcohol. People have died with too much Alcohol and people get affected with health issues. How to control your Mental health is yours to decide.

  3. Posted by Al Capone on

    Not to worry Mr Mayor, I ll pick up the slack,

    your truly Al.

  4. Posted by Shame on

    This mayor needs to take accountability for his own actions before calling for the accountability of others. He has contributed to the violence and is part of the problem. Punching people shame .

  5. Posted by Name Withheld on

    I agree with Mayor Bell. Alcoholism is a disease and you need to ensure you can go to a place here in Iqaluit to seek help.

    Alot of people feel that having weekend drinks is fine but when going do it every weekend then you have a problem even if it’s not taken daily.

    GN rush to get it open before seeking a treatment plan in place.

    • Posted by Kuujjuaq on

      Same problems in kuujjuaq. Beer is sold 7 days a week.

    • Posted by Carl on

      It is a huge problem here in Iqaluit, people drink way too much, not just the weekends but weekdays too, way too many functioning alcoholics most who don’t think its a problem.
      More education and information, programs needs to get out on alcoholism, what goes on here in Iqaluit with drinking way too much is not healthy, we need to find a way to improving this.

  6. Posted by chakaflan on

    “Data from Nunavut RCMP included in the report said alcohol-related crime increased slightly since the opening of the store.”

    Have a one-on-one conversation and ask them what they think about that. They’ll tell you that “increased slightly” doesn’t begin to describe the situation. They just can’t keep up with it, so lots of people aren’t being formally charged for “minor” alcohol related crimes. Anyone who isn’t removed from the downtown part of the city can see that the problem has exploded. And many teenagers will tell you that their families have fallen to pieces since the store opened. People who would never buy from a bootlegger or join the bar scene and hadn’t had a drink in years suddenly started buying and consuming the daily limit from the store.

    I sometimes enjoy beer and wine, and I’m not saying prohibition or strict regulations are good or bad. But this is the reality of how it has played out.

  7. Posted by still here on

    its not the alcohol that is the problem, it is the people that drink that cause the problem, why do i see people openly walking around with beer and alcohol in there hands? we need an rcmp/bylaw presence and we need the beer and wine store to start banning fools that cause problems, it is easy enough, but they refuse to do it. this beer and wine purchase was also to make a list of buyers, that list of buyers if they cause problems, even if only one, should have there privilege’s taken away, alcohol is not a right but a privilege

    • Posted by Iqalummiut on


  8. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    My respect for Mayor Bell just went up a thousand-fold. I wish him success in this initiative. I hope the store closes until proper controls and programs are in place.

    • Posted by Re-election? on

      Which initiative?. Closing the store or his last ditch efforts to get re-elected by jumping on any cause of the majority?

  9. Posted by 867 on

    This is a territorial issue, not an Iqaluit issue. Why the hell can someone get a permit to buy 500 mikkis in one order is beyond me. The B&W store has purchase limits, but no limit is set for permit orders. This means someone can legally order 1000x over what a “reasonable personal quantity” looks like.
    The GN needs to quit enabling bootleggers. purchase limits need to apply to all permit orders, not just B&W store purchases. This starts at the top by amending the Liquor Act. Our MLA’s have the power to do this, lets get it done.

  10. Posted by Taxpayer on

    The statement by the RCMP that crime has gone up slightly since the beer and wine store is only partly true. We all know that bootlegging is a major activity in Nunavut, rarely, if ever prosecuted, and therefore not included in crime stats. The question to ask is how much bootlegging crime is being prevented by the beer and wine store?

  11. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Mayor Bell seems to be conflating liquor permitting with ordering from the Beer and Wine Store. There is absolutely no way an individual can order a 1000 bottles of anything through the beer and wine store nor is one able to order hard alcohol. If you are going to petition the GN to close its doors then at least have the mental acuity to realize the difference between the liquor permitting system and the services offered by the Beer and Wine Store.

  12. Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

    Everything that can possibly be said in the alcohol sales versus prohibition debate has already been said over the years and then some so I’m not going to repeat the same old argument for or against the store.

    What I will say is that the Mayor is getting pretty desperate to improve his public image by wrapping himself in the flag of sobriety and dusting this old classic Iqaluit issue off the shelf. I think he’s trying to take a page from the federal liberal playbook by attempting to gin up public support by using a wedge issue. The federal Liberals go to guns, the Mayor goes to the old liquor store vs. prohibition thing. Hope it works for him.

  13. Posted by Back to the 70s on

    Yup. The Mayor is feeling desperate but truth is he can get a second term any time he wants.
    Mainly because, in the capitol of Nunavut, Inuit can’t be bothered to field a credible candidate for Mayor. They all appear to be too busy stoking the culture wars on Twitter or giving “decolonization” workshops to be bothered with such a public and fundamentally necessary but thankless position.

    Some personal responsibility and mutual accountability would be useful these days.

    • Posted by No way on

      This stinks of desperation. Unfortunately the next election isn’t far enough away for this mayor to redeem himself and basically anyone would beat this guy hands down. From the water crisis to domestic violence he’s going in the history books as one of the worst. Unfortunately this mayor has done more to divide then he ever did to unite

    • Posted by Ding dong on

      How about just being a good person instead of a grandstanding egomaniac? Iqaluit deserves better then what we’ve had for the last three years.

  14. Posted by Uvanga on

    It doesn’t make sense now to close it because most will go into Alcohol Withdrawal and that could be life threatening. The ER will be flooded, over capacity.
    Now, it (Mayor Bell) is like backpedaling.

  15. Posted by Too late on

    In 2020, the situation was bad but bell was the deciding vote to keep it. Now that he needs to fix his image, he wants to close it. People were asking for it to be closed then. He’s so disingenuous. He s just looking for any support he can get. Too late . Walking contradiction. We need a new mayor. One that doesn’t the air for the opportune time to make decisions that are in HIS best interests. Make no mistake. The woman of the beach deserved to have him act along time ago. He ignored them.

  16. Posted by At what cost ? on

    I commend the mayor for wanting to do something about the alcohol problem Highly doubt the majority would vote to close it And I recall the Chief Medical Officer during covid shutdown stating that it was an essential service. That being said under the present circumstance with limited counselling and a need for trauma and addiction facilities alcohol is extracting a heavy price here. I feel particularly bad for youth who through no fault of their own are being traumatized by living with family member or guardian who is alcohol addicted. Nunavut is trying to make better outcomes for the next generation and the present situation is extracting a heavy cost.on this

  17. Posted by 1000s on

    Who is this man to rule?
    What’s the plan? We build a b&w store for short term and see how it goes.
    What happened? Extremely successful project in terms of monetary costs. Although the quality of life decreased for most people.
    Well shit, now what? We can’t turn back. We went a little too far with this so let’s make it worse, stop everything and see what happens: people that are addicted will keep showing up to psych ward, one by one and so on and so forth. Now there is an even bigger problem. It’s not the quantity of people now but now these people are blacked out of hard liquor cause b&w closed down.

    No, you open up one with every fkn dirty penny you made and don’t leave any extra to make it the most attractive facility ever! And then you slowly shut down.

  18. Posted by Salty on

    Yes, I can picture it out now: all those drunks rushing to the local detox center to get help! Finally!

    • Posted by Inuk from Nunavik on

      I know of 2 people , who were given , a choice of jail or rehab, they both chose rehab.

  19. Posted by Snapfish on

    Mayor does flip flop again, first drink the bleach, now this!

  20. Posted by Alex on

    I think there is another problem now. If indeed the usage and alcohol consumption has gone up, and alcoholism has risen since the doors opened, locking the doors isn’t a healthy solution… will have a ton of people who may have dangerous consumption habit that could lead to serious health emergencies. The government made their bed, and since they didn’t implement any real abuse wellness locally, not sure how Kenny and the city could have the store closed without damage. I guess they are in the middle…..definitely a hard place to be for Iqaluit.

    • Posted by still here on

      Can we stop worrying about a tiny percentage of people and bleeding heart liberals that will be “oh no i have an addiction problem dont take the beer and wine store away”, 90 percent of us here do not cause problems, how come the 90 percent of us have to accept that 10 percent of people would be the reason a decision is made. Maybe people need to understand what a democratic society is. We need to restrict bad behavior! Oh this is Iqaluit , and that would make sense, so why do things in an intelligent way right?

      • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

        I was with you until the line about democracy. It readers that restrictions equals democracy. Nope.

  21. Posted by it was aliens on

    it was the aliens

    • Posted by Ancient aliens on

      “Ancient Alienssss”

  22. Posted by Stanky Leg on

    At least alcohol wasn’t a problem in NU before the B & W. People were abstaining or not wasting their money on other frivolous things. Children were not hungry and bootleggers did not exist.

  23. Posted by Go away on

    Here’s the deal Mayor Bell, since you lack of education is constantly showing, you broke the tie in favour of the store when there were issues back then. People now have a reliable source of alcohol. Taking that away is going to cause major problems both physically as well as socially. Why are you not able to be an effective leader and work with the GN and others instead of constantly finger pointing and blaming and making these grandiose statements? Remember the taxing the church debacle? The sooner we get you away from the helm, the better this city will be. You have proved time and time again, that you cannot work effectively with other levels of government or perhaps it’s just that they don’t take you serious anymore?

  24. Posted by Nish on

    Just my opinion but I would like to see how the limit would be changed to 48 beer/ bottles 8 of wine weekly.

    I think its a reasonable amount for a single person and if you were to go hit the limit you can always have access to the local bars within town which would help put those businesses some as well.

    Just spit balling some other idea is where are bylaw and rcmp handing out tickets for public intoxication for much of the individuals in town?
    No where else in the country can you just hangout where ever you’d like and drink excessively.

  25. Posted by Possible solution on

    Why doesn’t the City of Iqaluit open a wellness centre that provides alcohol treatment/detox and healing. Cambridge Bay did it with funding from the territorial government. I realize Iqaluit is tax-based, but if Cambridge Bay can do it, why can’t Iqaluit too?

  26. Posted by Thomas Shelby on

    Why not curb the amount that a person can buy everyday?

    24 beer a day or 12 beer and 2 or 3 bottles of wine is too much per day.

    Why not make it that a person can only buy the 24 beer/wine every 2 days or 3 days, to lessen the amounts given out.

    From the beginning when the store opened, I thought the amount was too much.

  27. Posted by Ragin Ronnie on

    OMG….what those cab drivers going to do. Maybe get a bus route pickup for buyers.

  28. Posted by Biography writer on

    Kenny’s legacy:

    -blaming everyone for everything while not improving anything; and
    -travelling as much as his predecessor (who he called the “travelling mayor”)

  29. Posted by shiat on

    Prohibition did not do any good, people will only become creative and possibly drink more and back to harder stuff. I think people need to accept it as a normal part of life like everywhere else in the world. When you control and or deny someone, human nature is to wanting it more.
    Our neighbours will make a better living doing their own sales with a nice mark up. Please mayor, make Iqaluit great again!

  30. Posted by Tom on

    This beer and wine store has also reached the near by communities, Pang, Kimmirut, King, more people are getting beer and wine in these communities and more public drunkenness.
    Broken homes and crime has far reaches from Iqaluit to these communities.

  31. Posted by Treatment Centre on

    When is the treatment centre opening?
    Where is the public housing and ensurement of quality education?
    People drink for a reason.

  32. Posted by Duffman on

    There’s too many that think it’s not a problem, too many that rather look the other way and ignore the situation with too much drinking,
    This store will not close because of this, too many will be thinking of themselves and rather keep drinking too much.
    Only when the individuals start to acknowledge that they have a problem with drinking too much nothing will change, it only will get worse and maybe when it’s finally bad enough that’s when things might start changing. But for now too many are in denial that this beer and wine store is a bad thing for Iqaluit and the surrounding communities.

  33. Posted by dweller of the Big Racks ruins on

    I don’t trust the city’s water supply (fuel water). However, I do trust the city’s alcohol supply! Please don’t take away our healthy non-fuel beverages!


Comments are closed.