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Fuelled by booze

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 29, 2007

RANKIN INLET - The Hamlet of Rankin Inlet is ready to clamp down on those who use bonfires as an excuse to drink in public with underage people around.

The matter came up during a regular meeting of hamlet council this past week.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Rankin Inlet's unarmed community constables, Albert Kimaliakyuk, left, and Warren Kusugak may need RCMP support if hamlet council instructs them to end bonfires when alcohol is present. - NNSL file photo

Concerns were expressed by a number of councillors over how easily alcohol is available to minors at the bonfires, and how many people consume liquor at the gatherings and then jump in their vehicle or on their ATV to drive home.

Bonfires have been held at Itivia almost every weekend for the past two months, and council would like to see them either regulated or stopped all together.

Coun. Ron Roach said while he supports the initiative, he has grave concerns about sending community constables to a bonfire late at night.

"If you've got two unarmed constables arriving at a bonfire late in the evening, where there's a bunch of people drinking, once the crowd realizes they're going to end their gathering it could get out of hand quickly," said Roach.

"Our community constables could find themselves with a brawl on their hands, and it's not fair to put them in that predicament."

Roach said bonfires in the community should be regulated and that means obtaining permits.

He said community constables would need RCMP support if council asks them to intervene with the party-goers.

"I have no problem with a bonfire as long as it's regulated, the RCMP are made aware of it and the safety issues are dealt with.

"We want to stop the underage drinking and, as everyone's aware, we have problems with drinking and driving in this community.

"As long as the underage people are kept away, and those having the bonfire aren't drinking and driving, I have no problem with it."

Roach said with the hamlet boundary extending to the Meliadine and Diane rivers, it's almost impossible for anyone to have a bonfire outside of municipal limits.

He said if people want to have bonfires they can obtain the proper permit, ensure there are no underage drinkers present and have designated drivers available to get people home.

"There's a time and a place for everything, and nothing wrong with alcohol if it's used in a proper manner.

"People should be able to go to their cabin and have some friends along for a few beers around a fire.

"It's the underage drinking and the drinking and driving we want stopped."

Coun. Justin Merritt said it's dangerous to have a bonfire in an open area with alcohol present and young people around.

He said if there's going to be booze, it has to be controlled.

"We're not talking about having friends over for a beer at your cabin or anything like that," said Merritt.

"Itivia is an open, public area and nobody seems to be controlling these fires ... just throwing pallets down and telling people to come and drink.

"I'm not against people having a bonfire and inviting friends to a party. But big gatherings with booze, young people and open fires is a dangerous combination."

Rankin used to have one big bonfire at Apache Pass on the longest day of the year.

Merritt said the RCMP would keep an eye on it for one night and not have to worry about it anymore.

He said the fires are being held all the time now for no other reason than to drink.

"If we, as a hamlet, knowingly allow these bonfire drinking gatherings to be going on, we're going to be liable one of these times because we didn't do anything about it.

"If some people in the community are upset because we want to clamp down on this, so be it.

"I have no problem with backlash."

Merritt said Rankin's community constables could be effective in ending the bonfires if they arrive when a gathering is just getting started.

He said they should be able to nip it in the bud if they get wind of it early.

"If someone is having a bonfire at 7 p.m., nobody shows up until later anyway.

"But, if the gathering continues after they tell them to put it out, they'll need support from the RCMP.

"We don't want our community constables going down there alone if there's all ready a party in full swing.

"We need to talk about this beforehand - council, bylaw, RCMP and our fire chief - so we all know what we're going to do before it happens."