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Norman Wells votes 'Yes'
Plebiscite to end liquor restrictions in the Sahtu community passes with 53 per cent

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 9, 2011

Last week 53 per cent of Norman Wells residents voted to end liquor restrictions in the community.

Andrew Bailes, who started the petition that spurred the plebiscite, said the results from the Dec. 5 vote are definitive - but the Sahtu remains divided on the issue.

"If you read the act, it's pretty much black and white what actually happens. Once that vote goes through, it's repealed. (The minister) has no choice," he said.

According to the Liquor Act, if a majority of voters approve the cancellation of a liquor restriction, the finance minister "shall recommend that the commissioner make regulations implementing the results of the plebiscite."

"I'm not worried at all, absolutely not, because I followed the act to the letter," Bailes said.

"You have to follow the act. That's why we have acts. That's why we have laws."

Norman Yakeleya, MLA for the Sahtu, said although liquor restrictions will end in Norman Wells, an amendment to the Liquor Act could reverse the decision.

"There's several options," he said.

By classifying the Norman Wells liquor store as a regional outlet, residents in the four surrounding Sahtu communities could have a say in what the restrictions there are, said Yakeleya.

The communities of Fort Good Hope, Tulita and Deline, which still have restrictions, and Colville Lake, which does not, will all be negatively affected by the change, Yakeleya said.

The minister of Finance, Michael Miltenberger, is responsible for making recommendations to the liquor commissioner, and Sahtu residents can lobby him to make changes to the act.

"(The lifted restrictions) will definitely have an affect on the other communities. It's like a calm lake, and you throw a rock in the middle of the lake. It will produce ripple effects," Yakeleya said. "Alcohol is a very serious issue in the communities. It has a strong emotional charge because it has done nothing but harm our people and our culture. It has robbed a lot of people of their identities. It has robbed a lot of people of their parents. It has robbed a lot of people of their childhood. It robs a lot of people of their careers."

Yakeleya said there are concerns that when the liquor restrictions are lifted in Norman Wells, bootleggers will be able to supply cheaper booze in larger supplies.

Cpl. Greg Morrow of the Deline RCMP agreed.

"Now you can go buy what you want and bring it back to the communities," he said. "

Officers in Deline conduct active patrols for bootleggers, follow-up on tips from community members and monitor flights and ice road traffic, he said, but charges under the Liquor Act are uncommon.

Morrow estimates they seize alcohol a couple times a month.

"Even with the restrictions in Deline, it isn't going to stop someone from buying as much liquor as they feel in Norman Wells and making that attempt to bring it back," he said.

Bailes countered that restrictions aren't the only way to curb alcohol consumption in the communities.

"The 'No' side was really adamant, but at the end of the day, Norman Wells isn't going to solve everybody's problems," he said.

Currently, on any given day, residents are allowed to purchase two bottles of wine and a bottle of liquor, two bottles of wine and a case of beer, one case of beer and a bottle of liquor, or a flat of beer and a bottle of wine, according to the NWT Liquor Commission.

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