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Students spearhead rally against booze
Unrestricted alcohol debate sparks concerns among youth

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 17, 2014

As residents in three communities prepare to vote on whether or not to move to an unrestricted liquor system, students in Kugluktuk are rallying in an attempt to convince the adults in their community to vote no on Feb. 24.

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More than 300 Kugluktuk residents - most of them students - took to the streets on Feb. 7 to urge community members to vote against lifting alcohol restrictions in their community. Here, Eustace Kadlun, left, Mathew Mulgrew and Clayton Niptanatiak take part in the march. A public vote will be held in the hamlet, as well as in Chesterfield Inlet and Arviat, on Feb. 24. - photo courtesy of Maria Csaba

A "vote no" march on Feb. 7 drew more than 300 people, roughly two thirds of whom were elementary and high school students who are ineligible to vote in the upcoming plebiscite, said elementary school principal Catherine Keeling.

"Children are asking the community to help keep them safe and vote no," she said, adding the protest is a community decision that was not originated by the schools.

Along with Kugluktuk, Chesterfield Inlet and Arviat will hold public votes later this month.

"To have a plebiscite, the way it works is that there has to be a petition put together in the community of at least 20 eligible voters," said the deputy finance minister Chris D'Arcy.

That petition must then be verified by the hamlets, who then pass it on to the Government of Nunavut where the Finance minister vets whether or not a vote should be held because the Liquor Act falls under Finance's responsibilities.

For alcohol restrictions to be lifted in a community, 60 per cent of those who cast a ballot must vote yes, D'Arcy said, adding that any less will make the plebiscite fail."

Don LeBlanc, Kugluktuk's senior administrative officer, confirmed the hamlet was given a petition put together by community members.

"A couple of people in the community weren't happy with the way things were going with the committee," he said.

"As the SAO, I really think things were going well the way they were. It suits better the need, having it go through the committee. There's no way we want to open the door on what they had before."

All three communities are voting on whether or not they will move to a completely unrestricted system. Alcohol is currently prohibited in Arviat, following a move in 2009 when an effort to go to a restricted system was shot down by a public vote.

Chesterfield Inlet and Kugluktuk currently use restricted systems that are governed by an alcohol education committee, which sets limits on how much alcohol an individual can bring into the community and approves or denies requests to bring in alcohol.

Residents in both hamlets will vote yes or no to moving to a completely unrestricted system.

Chesterfield Inlet residents last had their say on the issue on Dec. 13, 2010, when a request to move to an open system was voted down.

While the GN helps to manage the vote, the Liquor Act requires decisions on alcohol restrictions be made within communities - not by the territorial government, said D'Arcy.

"Whatever is best for the community is what we support," he said.

Kugluktuk had an unrestricted system until six years ago, when a community vote decided to move to a restricted system overseen by the alcohol education committee.

Since then, Susie Evyagotailak, a long-time resident and chair of the alcohol education committee, said she has seen positive change in her community.

"There's more family activities happening. There's more ... parents being more involved with their children."

Evyagotailak spoke in favour of keeping the current system and the alcohol education committee.

Currently, seven volunteers sit on the committee and meet each Monday to review alcohol applications.

A typical week sees about 30 applications, and committee members work with RCMP and Kugluktuk's probation officer to vet the applicants.

"The only time an applicant can be denied is when they have had an alcohol-related incident and a concern for the well-being of the individual," she said, adding this happens once or twice every two weeks.

While she acknowledged some Monday meetings have been cancelled in the past due to members being away on duty travel or events happening in the community, she disagreed that anyone had faced any unreasonable delays in being able to secure their alcohol shipment.

The weekly household limit set by the Kugluktuk alcohol education committee is one 60-ounce, one 40-ounce and one 26-ounce bottle of liquor, plus four litres of wine and 24 beer.

"It's more than one person could ever drink in a week," said Keeling while making her case for why she hopes the plebiscite is shot down.

"I'm supporting the students. The students are asking for this," she said. "(A yes vote) would just mean that there would be more alcohol present in the community and less support for responsible drinking."

Students and community members who are involved in protesting the vote planned to hold another march on Feb. 17 - the same day early ballots will be cast at the hamlet office.

Another march is planned for Feb. 21 leading to the following Monday's vote.

"I want the parents to think about the children that cannot vote. How would those children vote for a safer environment, for a safer happy, healthy community of Kugluktuk?" Evyagotailak asked.

"If you're going to vote, as much as we want for things to happen for us, but we also have to think of those children that are going to be affected by the vote."

On Feb. 13, Kugluktuk's high school held a student vote, where 86 per cent voted against lifting the alcohol restrictions, and 13 per cent voted in favour.

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