Majority oppose new Iqaluit bar at public meeting

The Nunavut Liquor Licencing Board will wait until January before making a decision on the controversial Uvagut Bar proposal.



IQALUIT — Iqaluit residents will have to wait until mid-January for a decision by the Nunavut Liquor Licensing Board on a controversial new bar proposal for Iqaluit.
The Nunavut Liquor Licensing Board, which grants or denies liquor licence applications, is scheduled to meet during the week of Jan. 17 to further discuss a cocktail licence application made by Iqaluit residents Elisapee Sheutiapik, Carmen Kootoo and Ross Bennett.

A final decision could be made at that meeting.

Last week, about 200 residents packed Iqaluit’s parish hall at a public meeting sponsored by the liquor board. People came to voice their opposition or support for another drinking establishment in the community.

Division in community

The often emotional meeting exposed the chasm between those who have watched or survived the effects of alcohol abuse, and those who say another drinking establishment will not add to the social problems that already riddle the community.

At the centre of the controversy is a proposed 130-seat bar, tentatively named the Uvagut Bar, to be located in Iqaluit’s West 40 area.

The bar’s would-be owners sat quietly and listened as an overwhelming majority of those who took to the microphone urged the board to quash any chance of another bar opening for business.

“It’s not an issue of freedom of choice,” said Iqaluit resident and bar opponent Mark O’Keefe.

“It is about looking at what is best for the community as a whole in view of the current alcohol problem. Common sense says we shouldn’t feed the problem,” O’Keefe said.

Elders and other residents recounted personal stories of family members ensnared in alcohol abuse, and the pain that resulted.

But a handful of speakers supported the proposed bar and argued people have the right to choose to drink at a new establishment.

“People should take more responsibility for themselves,” said Iqaluit resident Hannah Uniuqsaraq.

“Obviously alcohol is a problem in the community, but there’s also lots of other problems, like the suicide rate is really high, we’re not going to stop selling ropes and guns because the suicide rate is really high,” she said.

The six board members present sat poker-faced through each presentation at the four-hour meeting.

Iqaluit lawyer Sue Cooper spoke on behalf of the applicants. She argued none of the objections filed against the application suggest the owners will be irresponsible, but are objections to alcohol itself.

“The objections are based on the broader concern of the impact of alcohol on the community,” Cooper said.

“Denying this particular application does not address those concerns.”

Lawyer represents proponents

Iqaluit residents can petition the government for a plebiscite to ban all bars if they want to ban alcohol, she said.

And Cooper reminded the board the Uvagut bar would be Inuit owned, with both the owner and operator living in Iqaluit.

“The Nunavut government, NTI and other Inuit organizations have a mandate to promote Inuit business. The granting of a liquor licence for this business would be in keeping with that mandate,” Cooper said.

Liquor license applicant Elisapee Sheutiapik stood and defended the venture, which she said will help the community, not harm it. She told the board that her bar would be different from those already operating in Iqaluit.

“On Sundays we are willing to open the bar without alcohol,” Sheutiapik said. Sheutiapik said Sundays would be open for people to discuss their problems or issues.

“Do you hear of establishments that go to the people, that say ‘are you okay?’ No. These are the kind of services we want to provide,” she said.

But many residents spoke of the problems that alcohol had brought to their lives, and they asked the applicants to consider another venture, such as a grocery store with lower prices.

“I experienced a loss of one of my children due to alcohol. Let us see them pursue something more beneficial — a food store, a clothing store that can look at reducing the costs,” said Iqaluit elder Inuapik Sageatook .

“Alcohol has created problems. With my kids, when they drink, I have to run away,” she said.

“The little children, let us love them so they will have a good life and mature,” said Iqaluit resident Annie Nattaq.

“There’s inadequate assistance for families that have been broken because of alcohol. The food and cost of living is so high… and here we are drinking. Let us look at alternatives that will improve our social conditions,” Nattaq said.

Article 24 doesn’t apply

Iqaluit businessman Tagak Curley argued the addition of one more bar to the community would increase social and employment problems. Curley further argued the bar’s Inuit-owned status was of little relevance.

“I don’t believe your mandate has anything to do with Article 24. Article 24 has to do with government contracts,” said Curley, who is a former chief negotiator on the Nunavut land claim.

Iqaluit town councillor Ben Ell, speaking on behalf of the Town of Iqaluit, said the municipality does not want any more liquor licences issued until the Liquor Act is reviewed.

And he said the bar’s proposed location wouldn’t comply with Iqaluit’s zoning bylaw because of its proximity to an old U.S. military dump and the town’s sewage lagoon.

But the site is already zoned commercial, said Joseph Morneau, the bar’s potential landlord. His company, Group One, owns the building that would house the Uvagut bar.

Morneau dismissed the health concerns, based on his experience running the unlicensed Explorers’ Club.

“We’ve been operating a private, though an unlicensed club for six years and nobody that I know has developed cancer or any other terrible disease,” Morneau said.

Liquor board chairperson Goo Arlooktoo said the board would hold a private meeting the next day and that the presentations would help the board as it considers the issues.

The board is next scheduled to meet the week of Jan. 17. Delilah St. Arneault, the liquor board’s manager of licensing and enforcement, said she expects a final decision to be made following that meeting.

Once a decision is announced, she said the factors that were considered by the board will be explained.

Should the board deny the applicants a licence, they can appeal to the Nunavut Court of Justice on a jurisdictional issue, Cooper said.

If the board grants a licence, the bar will still have to go to the municipality for a development permit, Sheutiapik said.

After the meeting Sheutiapik was upbeat and said the process had made her a stronger person.

She said she decided to stick with it, despite the controversy, because of her strong beliefs. She said if the people of Nunavut can run their own government, they can run their own bar.

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