Dry Nunavut community looks at bylaw to reduce public drunkeness
“There’s people out in public who are insanely drunk"
A new public intoxication bylaw may soon come into effect in Pangnirtung — still officially one of Nunavut’s dry communities where the possession of alcohol is prohibited — if it is approved by hamlet council.
The bylaw, called the “public nuisance” bylaw, would help decrease the public binge-drinking that happens in the community, says Ron Mongeau, Pangnirtung’s senior administrative officer.
The bylaw, which has been in the works for a few years now, states that if someone is found drunk on the streets, he or she can be fined.
But the bylaw has run into a roadblock.
That’s because the Government of Nunavut, which regulates the territory’s current alcohol restrictions, did not approve of using the word “intoxication” in previous bylaw drafts.
Now, the bylaw is called the public nuisance bylaw, Mongeau said.
If passed, as with other bylaws, the public nuisance bylaw would be enforced by either the RCMP or the hamlet’s bylaw officers.
That means intoxicated people on the street may face fines.
The proposed fines are: $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for third and subsequent offenses.
Pangnirtung, where voters in 2009 rejected the idea of replacing the total prohibition of alcohol with controlled access through an alcohol education committee, may still be a dry community, but “there’s a lot of booze that comes in here,” Mongeau said.
That includes mostly 12-ounce mickeys of vodka.
“It’s not socialization. Most people take a mickey and guzzle,” Mongeau said.
Most of the public nuisance that happens in Pangnirtung is alcohol related, he said.
“There’s people out in public who are insanely drunk, from drinking so much in a short period of time and they are causing obviously harm to themselves, they’re causing harm to the community, they’re out there yelling, screaming, abusing elders, knocking on doors, throwing rocks — you know, the typical things that drunk people do,” Mongeau said.
The bylaw would also cut down on more serious issues such as violence, he said.
However, the hamlet needs to talk to the community about whether or not they think the bylaw will work, and if it should be approved.
The mayor, Sakiasie Sowdluapik, will likely go on the radio and explain the bylaw in English and Inuktitut.
But being a dry community hasn’t stopped bootleggers from bringing alcohol into Pangnirtung, if anything it’s made bootlegging even more attractive, Mongeau said.
“Our thought was, we may not be able to stop alcohol from coming in… but what we can do is we can force people if they’re going to drink, to get behind closed doors and not impact on the rest of the community,” Mongeau said.
Social drinking – having a drink or two and then putting the rest away – isn’t an option in Pangnirtung because alcohol is illegal.
Booze is “not the kind of thing people want to keep around because you’re going to get found out sooner or later,” he said.
That leads to binge-drinking, which happens on a regular basis.
“What we see more and more is people just binge drinking, for example, in half an hour or an hour drinking that whole mickey,” Mongeau said.
As for the economic impact of drinking bootlegged liquor, it’s huge: the Government of Nunavut, which released the final report of the Nunavut Liquor Review Task Force last November, estimates that the economic value of bootlegging is at least $10 million a year.
And that figure could be underestimated, because it does not include the illegal sale of liquor transported to Nunavut from other jurisdictions, including via sealift.