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Will council take ownership of the alcohol situation?

RCMP warnings could hardly be more clear
Stewart Burnett is editor of Kivalliq News. Photo courtesy of Stewart Burnett


If not for a push from Coun. Michael Shouldice, RCMP Sgt. Patrick Frenette’s pleas may have echoed off into the hamlet chamber’s walls again.

The RCMP sergeant’s monthly crime update has been at the core of council’s discussions over the past year, as rapidly rising statistics seem to point to a clear culprit in the beer and wine store, opened late 2021.

It’s such a correlation that Frenette has cited an example of two recent Saturdays where one had the store open and the other closed, and the day with it open saw 20 times the police calls.

In journalism terms, it’s very rare to see the local police chief repeatedly requesting help and making warnings about an ongoing and worsening situation in town.

Shouldice commented that the council should be “ashamed” of the fact Frenette has to keep coming back and saying the same things, and there’s truth to that.

Rankin Inlet could continue to mosey along, think about writing a letter, see what Frenette says next time, but Shouldice seemed eager to move things along at the Nov. 14 meeting.

When Mayor Harry Towtongie wondered aloud if “we should go to the government again, (say) look, this didn’t work, what are we going to do,” Shouldice responded pointedly.

“Shouldn’t we ask ourselves that question?” asked Shouldice. “Shouldn’t we meet, Harry? Shouldn’t we take that by the hand and say we own this, let’s have a meeting? Shouldn’t we? I’m sorry I keep pushing that, but until we take ownership, it’s not going to happen.”

“You’re right,” responded the mayor, as Shouldice was talking.

And following through, Towtongie ended the council session by scheduling the meeting about the beer and wine store.

Since these discussions at council began, the hamlet has been responsible for lowering the daily limits by half, as well as creating some language around public intoxication at community facilities and hosting a radio show on the subject, so there has been some action on the file.

But to catch Shouldice’s drift, one imagines the council could do even more.

When the new council had its first post-election meeting, there was a fair bit of back-patting about being a leader in the community and making change for the better. However, that doesn’t automatically come from being on council. It takes action to be a leader and make change. Town councils across Canada are full of lame-duck councillors who contribute very little. It is up to the councillors to take their passion beyond the mandated bi-weekly meetings and wield their platform for change.

As Frenette mentioned in his parting words, we need to keep in mind the people who are really suffering in all of this. To focus on the challenges for the RCMP and social workers’ capacity is to ignore the more immediate destructive pain individuals, families and children are experiencing.

As the police force bends, residents here are buckling and breaking. How many people end up in the ‘drunk tank’ is a statistic, but how many have said and done things they can never take back? And to Frenette and deputy mayor Daniel Kowmuk’s concerns, how many children have seen things they will never forget? How much generational trauma is being passed on?

The relevant flip side of the coin is that these ills will always exist, in all of us. The beer and wine store provides easy access, but alcohol is legal for adults in Canada, and individuals not only have the right but deserve to steer their own fate, to a reasonably generous degree.

After all, the town voted for the store in the first place. It didn’t appear out of nowhere. The one petition to close the store didn’t receive an overwhelming number of signatures. It’s fair to wonder just how much this issue really matters to the community.

The sad part is that though Rankin Inlet may badly need resources to address these challenges, so too does every other community in Nunavut and across the country. Travelling around the country these days, one would notice just how much the whole place is lacking resources and seemingly falling apart.

Beyond Rankin Inlet’s humble council, if this is really such a problem in town, the community needs to take ownership, as well as other relevant organizations such as the Kivalliq Inuit Association and local MLAs.

Though Frenette’s warnings are dire, if few sign petitions, no one attends council meetings, there are no protests in the streets – one has to wonder if anyone really cares that much.