Tuk gets wet
Liquor store proposal moving too fast, says resident

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Tuktoyaktuk (Feb 21/00) - A proposed liquor store in the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk will set back years of work towards healing in the now dry community, says one concerned resident.

Rose Mary Lundrigen says the proposed liquor store may open as early as this summer and the process is moving too fast.

"They should have sought the elders' concern and wisdom," Lundrigen said. "The council meeting took place on Jan. 19, and they're talking about opening this summer. It's too quick."

She's concerned a liquor store will undo much of the good the community has worked towards for the past two years.

"It contradicts the workshop we held in 1998, where the focus was on healing the community," she said. "It completely contradicts what we are trying so hard to do here."

The community has other worries now as the social ills of the south have crept North.

"The problems in the community don't just come from alcohol. Drugs and, most recently, cocaine has infiltrated our community," Lundrigen said. "My youngest sister phoned me from B.C., 'Oh Mary, I never would have thought cocaine had reached our community, but it has.'"

Opening a liquor store will only add to the problem, she said, adding that the police should be looking at cracking down on the bootleggers instead of replacing them with less expensive means to alcohol.

"It's easy to buy booze there," she said. "And it's cheaper to buy from the bootleggers than to fly to Inuvik."

The hamlet council voted eight in favour and one abstaining to approve the new liquor store.

Mervin Gruben was one of the councillors in favour. He disagrees with Lundrigen.

"I think it's moving to slow," Gruben said. "The majority of the population is in favour of it."

Gruben said the liquor store will remove the criminal element from the sale of liquor in the hamlet.

"There's a lot of bootleggers in town and people spend all their welfare money or whatever money they've got on the bootleggers," Gruben said. "It might go a little funny for the first little bit, but like anywhere else, people will get used to it. It definitely can't get any worse."

Having more affordable liquor may also reduce the abuse of more harmful substances, he said.

"We get lots of alcohol abuse and other substance abuse here; they go for hairspray, aftershave and stuff like that too," he said. Right now, you buy a bottle for $40 in Inuvik, it costs about $100 here," he said.

"If we had a liquor store maybe people would have a little more money to spend on their families."

Hamlet councillor Paul Voudrach also voted in favour of the new outlet. He says the hamlet has put a lot of time and effort into the consideration.

"During the (territorial) election we had a polling station to see how many people were for or against establishing a liquor store here."

Residents voted 126-76 in favour of a liquor store and although a plebiscite was not necessary, Voudrach said the vote made council's decision easier.

"The only requirement that was necessary was for the hamlet council motion to present it to the liquor people in Yellowknife," he said.

A teetotaler himself, the councillor said he also favours the store because it will reduce the crime element in the hamlet.

"Myself, I don't drink. I was delivered from that 10 years ago," he said. "I'm in favour of it because of the amount of liquor being sold to people through bootlegging.

"I know this may not completely stop it, but it will certainly reduce the black market from what it is today," he added.

General manager for the NWT Liquor Commission, Ron Courtoreille, said the process for approval is still in the early stages.

"If we do put a liquor store in there, it will be at the request of the community. It's not something we just arbitrarily put in there," he said. "We've gotten that request and the community also held a vote on it last December, but there is a process that we go through before we can say yes."

The government must first determine if the operation would turn a profit, Courtoreille said.

"The next step is that we will determine if it is a viable entity in the community," he said. "The government certainly isn't going to subsidize the price of liquor in any community. We have to make sure that these things are viable -- population-wise as well as financially."