Kuujjuaq co-op floats plan to revive retail beer sales
Kuujjuaq residents may be asked to vote in beer-sales plebiscite later this month
KUUJJUAQ — Nunavik’s administrative hub, Kuujjuaq, may hold a plebiscite later this month to ask residents whether or not they want to see retail beer sales start up again in town.
Beer hasn’t been sold in Kuujjuaq since 1996, when a plebiscite determined alcohol sales could continue in the local bar, but not from the community’s co-op store.
A plebiscite on beer sales could take place in June if the municipal council gives the go-ahead this week.
The co-op store, which pulled out of selling groceries a few years ago, now sells only gifts and some electronics.
But the co-op association, which runs the store, never relinquished its liquor license, and wants to start selling beer there again.
Kuujjuaq’s secretary-treasurer Ian Robertson said councillors haven’t yet passed a formal resolution on whether to hold a plebiscite and what question to ask.
However, after the town councillors do pass such a resolution — and many expect they will — a plebiscite must be held within 15 days, Robertson said.
If the plebiscite vote decides that beer can be sold in Kuujjuaq, this won’t be the first time beer that has been sold in this community of 2,200.
In 1979, the co-operative store first started selling beer in Kuujjuaq two days a week, four years before the Ikkaqivvik Bar opened in 1983.
However, in 1996, as a way of putting an end to a string of alcohol-related deaths, Johnny Adams, then the mayor of Kuujjuaq, closed the Ikkaqivvik Bar for two weeks and stopped all retail beer sales.
During this period, police and people in Kuujjuaq noticed a drop in violent offences.
Residents then decided in a plebiscite to keep the bar open, but to stop selling beer at the co-op store.
An April 2001 plebiscite allowed residents to decide once again whether beer should be sold in Kuujjuaq’s local stores. They were asked a simple, yes-no question, “Do you think beer should be sold in Kuujjuaq?”.
But the idea didn’t pass.
To gauge public support for yet another plebiscite this summer, the town council asked the co-op to participate in community radio call-in programs, the most recent of which aired June 1.
Public opinion to date about renewing beer sales appeared to stand at about 50-50, listeners report.
Some in Kuujjuaq told Nunatsiaq News that they worry about the impact of selling beer in Kuujjuaq.
Beer sales could have a ripple effect in other neighbouring communities with no retail beer outlets, they say. That’s because people coming to Kuujjuaq for meetings and medical appointments would likely load up on beer before returning home.
But others suggest that if beer was sold over-the-counter that it would keep drinkers from driving around Kuujjuaq while drunk: according to statistics tabled by police at last week’s Kativik Regional Government meeting in Kangirsuk, there were 53 cases of impaired driving in Kuujjuaq during the first three months of 2011.
Many also say there are too many bootleggers in Kuujjuaq: it would be better to see the money now flowing to bootleggers end up in the co-op coffers.
The local bar is empty on many nights because drinkers buy beer from bootleggers to drink at home, they say.
There’s no question that selling beer is a money-maker in Kuujjuaq.
The sales of alcohol in the local bar, one of the largest sellers of Labatt Blue beer in Quebec, and Kuujjuaq Inn’s licensed lounge nets millions of dollars a year for the local Landholding Corporation, which owns the two establishments.
Grocery outlets and the Société des Alcools du Québec, which also ship alcoholic beverages to Nunavik, also account for more than $2 million in revenues, much of which comes from Kuujjuaq.
As for the argument that retail beer sales in Kuujjuaq would up the level of crime, the Kativik Regional Police Force statistics show that alcohol already fuels a fair amount of mayhem in town.
During the first three months of 2011, 142 out of 163 assaults and seven out of 12 sexual assaults in Kuujjuaq were alcohol-related.