Iqaluit’s beer and wine store reduces bootlegging and binge drinking, says survey results
But more mental health services are needed to reduce the harms of alcohol, says Uquutaq Society executive director
The Government of Nunavut has found that people were overwhelmingly in favour of keeping Iqaluit’s beer and wine store open after its three-year pilot project.
The Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission runs the store, and it used a combination of public survey results, stakeholder input and other data when deciding to keep the store open.
“If something’s not proving to me right in my face that it’s acting to the detriment of residents, then why would we look at closing?” said George Hickes, the minister responsible for the NULC.
In fact, data collected in a public survey indicates that the presence of the store reduces bootlegging and binge drinking, which were two of the GN’s main aims in opening it.
When it announced the store would remain open in late June, the NULC also published its latest survey results and the 24-page Iqaluit NULC Store Pilot Project Evaluation Report.
The survey was open this year from Feb. 15 to March 15. It was available in Inuktitut, English and French, online and in hard copies.
Elisapee Sheutiapik, the minister of family services, who represents the riding of Iqaluit-Sinaa, also held an open house at the end of February.
Copies of the survey were available there, as were representatives from the NULC and various stakeholders, to give information and answer questions from the public about the presence of the store and its future.
“Our liquor surveys … tend to be some of the most, if not the most, taken up,” said Dan Young, the executive director of the NULC.
The number of completed surveys that could be used for data was 760. That means that approximately 14 per cent of the drinking-age population of Iqaluit responded to the survey.
Of those, 75 per cent were in favour of the store remaining permanently open.
In addition, 35 per cent of people who responded said they binge drink less, while 15 per cent said they binge drink more.
According to the survey, the presence of the store is helping to reduce crime, as 67 per cent of the people who responded have no longer used a bootlegger to get alcohol since 2016.
Of the 760 surveys, two were filled out in Inuktitut. There were nine completed French surveys and the rest were in English. Half of the people who responded to the survey indicated that they make over $90,000 a year.
There was “a lot of effort” to reach as many demographics as possible, Hickes said.
“We did take out ads, posters were put up, most people were aware the survey was going on,” he said.
Laurel McCorriston, the executive director of the Uquutaq Society in Iqaluit, which runs the men’s shelter and the damp shelter, said she doesn’t see anything wrong with the fact that 50 per cent of the survey respondents made over $90,000 a year, saying, “We know that addiction runs across all economic levels.”
“But did we get everybody else?” she asked.
“Nobody came to talk to the men who live in the shelter, they just took some stats. How about having Inuktitut interviewers go out and interview people?” she said.
The Uquutaq Society is one stakeholder that the NULC consulted and used data from in making its decision to keep the store open permanently.
In its report, the NULC cited numbers of people turned away from the men’s shelter due to their being intoxicated.
The shelter didn’t keep data from before 2017. But in 2018 the NULC reported it turned away 90 people due to intoxication, and 254 in 2019. But McCorriston said those numbers represent the number of times men were turned away, not the number of men who were turned away.
The City of Iqaluit is another stakeholder.
Mayor Kenny Bell is in favour of the store. During a May 12 meeting, city councillors debated and voted on a motion on whether or not to recommend to the NULC that the store be made permanent. Bell cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the motion.
“Prohibition does not work,” Kenny said in an interview. “Alcohol is here.”
“Making it easier to get beer and wine, it’s a fantastic idea.”
The Department of Justice is another stakeholder. In response to a request for an interview, Jessica Young, a spokesperson for the department, wrote in an email that Justice “does not specifically track statistics or trends relating to social impacts associated with the opening of the beer and wine store.”
But, she wrote, there haven’t been any increases in the use of the Family Abuse Intervention Act since the store has been open. Nor has there been a significant change in call volume to the RCMP.
The Department of Health, another stakeholder, also emailed a statement. Spokesperson Chris Puglia wrote that there hasn’t been a statistically significant change to the number of emergency room visits or mental health referrals since the beer and wine store opened.
“It would also be extremely difficult to attribute any change, either up or down, to the opening of the beer and wine store, as there are numerous medical, environmental and patient specific factors at play which could influence the data,” Puglia wrote.
Another stakeholder, the RCMP, reported to a city council meeting in 2018 that alcohol-related calls were up “marginally” since the store opened.
In an interview, Arijana Haramincic, the executive director of Family Services, another stakeholder, said that asking how the presence of the beer and wine store impacts people who live in Iqaluit is a challenging question to answer.
There has been no increase or decrease in reported child abuse or neglect in the last three or four years, Haramincic said, but she would “really caution” connecting that to the presence of the beer and wine store.
In its report, NULC wrote that the data collected by Family Services indicated no significant change in the percentage of family violence screens that involved alcohol compared to before the store opened.
The NULC also looked at the number of liquor import permits sold after the store opened. The number of permits for hard alcohol went down by 30 per cent in the first year the store was open, and by 50 per cent in the second year.
It’s hard to attribute every positive or negative change to the beer and wine store, Hickes said.
“When you don’t see any dramatic peaks or valleys in the reporting, it makes it really difficult to measure the actual impact of the beer and wine store,” he said.
But if the statistics that are gathered do show people using bootleggers to get alcohol less or not at all, “that shows me it’s working,” Hickes said.
But to McCorriston, the opening of the store should have come with more mental health or alcohol addiction services.
“Making alcohol more accessible, even though there’s some mitigation around crime, I can’t see how it contributes to harm reduction,” McCorriston said.
The store is a “step,” she said. “What’s the next step? We have to keep building on this.”
McCorriston said programming that’s currently available is “mainstream, southern dominant cultural programs.”
“I’m white, I can’t figure these things out,” she said. “We need to be putting money into culturally appropriate design and delivery.”
Hickes, who’s also the minister of health, wants people to know mental health services are available.
One thing he’d like to see is mental health positions filled locally. “We’re very underrepresented in the health field as Inuit,” he said.
“Kids gotta go to school, you gotta take the bull by the horns.”