October 26, 2007

Kugluktuk says yes to alcohol committee

Adults follow lead of the youth

JANE GEORGE

CAMBRIDGE BAY - Encouraged by their young people, more than 60 per cent of Kugluktuk voters said that they support the creation of an alcohol education committee in a community-wide referendum held Monday, Oct. 22.

According to Elections Nunavut, 234 Kugluktuk residents voted "yes" and 120 voted "no" to a question that asked them if they backed the establishment an alcohol education committee.

About 65 per cent of those who cast ballots said yes, exceeding the 60 per cent threshold needed to establish the committee.

Pressure from Kugluktuk youth encouraged 65 per cent of Kugluktuk voters to say “yes” to the creation of an alcohol education committee on Oct. 22.
(PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Last week, 75 per cent of Kugluktuk high school students, in a mock school referendum, voted in favour of an alcohol education committee.

The members of Kugluktuk's alcohol education committee will be chosen Dec. 10, the same date as the community's municipal elections.

The results of the Kugluktuk referendum are likely to bolster support for Cambridge Bay's petition for a similar referendum.

"It will be helpful to us," Peter Harte said.

Harte, a lawyer with the Kitikmeot Law Centre, is one of a group of Cambridge Bay residents who want to revitalize an alcohol education committee in the community. They recently submitted a letter and petition to the Government of Nunavut asking for a referendum on an alcohol education committee to go ahead.

Cambridge Bay has an inactive alcohol education committee, created more than 20 years ago, which can ban access to alcohol, but not limit the amount brought into the community.

Government of Nunavut lawyers recommended the hamlet not give new powers to this body, but let a public referendum decide whether the community wants a new committee with broader powers.

According to the Liquor Act inherited from the Northwest Territories, alcohol education committees in Nunavut may determine who may consume, possess, purchase or traffic alcohol, who can order alcohol and the amount of alcohol a resident may bring into the community.

If the GN approves Cambridge Bay's referendum petition, the community could proceed with a referendum at the same time as the Dec. 10 municipal elections, and hold another vote later to choose the committee members.

The alcohol education committee's decisions would follow set rules, Harte said. And its overall role, he said, would be to inspire "a sense of social responsibility," so it's no longer socially acceptable to drink to excess in Cambridge Bay.

As a lawyer, Harte would like to see crime in Cambridge Bay drop. The rate at which criminal charges are laid in the community is four times higher than in Gjoa Haven, a dry community.

Over the past two years, the total number of arrests in Cambridge Bay has exploded from 339 in 2005 to 742 so far in 2007, including three violent deaths earlier this year.

"People are intoxicated when they're getting into trouble," Harte said, citing the case of Willie Nakashook.

On Oct. 18, Nakashook, 33, received a six-month sentence plus probation after he pleaded guilty to charges related to an armed standoff last May in Cambridge Bay.

Nakashook admitted being drunk when he barricaded himself in a house for hours, causing the entire community to shut down.

Despite the havoc that alcohol has wreaked in the community, some in Cambridge Bay say they worry that no one will want to sit on an alcohol education committee because they will face personal repercussions from the decisions the committee makes.

Others worry a committee won't have enough resources to educate residents about the dangers of alcohol abuse.

They also say its presence may not make a huge difference in stemming over-drinking unless people are ready to make a change in their addictive behaviour.

Cambridge Bay already has an active wellness centre and Nunavut's sole hamlet wellness strategy. The hamlet is also lobbying the GN to set up its territorial treatment centre in the community.