The people of Baker Lake will once again get the chance to decide how the purchase of liquor is regulated in the community.

Baker Lake will be voting on how the community controls the
purchase of alcohol for the second time in three years on April 26.
The plebiscite, which was organized through a petition collected by
concerned community members, will seek to return Baker Lake to
being a restricted community. (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The community will be holding a plebiscite on April 26 to vote on whether or not to reinstate restrictions which govern the sale of alcohol in the community.

There will also be the opportunity to cast an early ballot on April 19.

The vote will come just three years after Baker Lake voted to remove restrictions related to the purchase of alcohol.

“We went from a restricted community to an unrestricted community just a few years ago,” said Mayor Richard Aksawnee. “From then until today we’ve had some concerned residents.”

The last plebiscite was not without controversy because it was decided by just a single vote, with 178 (which equated to 60.1 per cent of voters) in favour of removing restrictions and 119 against. The territorial government’s liquor regulations state that at least 60 per cent of the votes cast are required to overturn the existing system. 

Adding to the narrow margin was the fact that four ballots were discarded.

The low voter turnout in 2018 — just 32 per cent — also meant that it was hard to gauge to what extent it represented the will of the community.

“At that time the people who came forward with the petition thought Elders were not properly notified and voting stations weren’t properly accessible for people with limited mobility,” said Aksawnee.

A new vote

In order to force a new plebiscite, a petition in favour of a new vote had to be signed by at least 10 per cent of the voting population. That threshold was reached and the necessary paperwork was submitted to the territorial government’s department of finance, which has approved the plebiscite. Aksawnee said hamlet council did not play a role in bringing the plebiscite forward.

“To my understanding it was a volunteer who worked with a couple of youth,” said Aksawnee.

Askwanee said the 2018 plebiscite was held with the intention of reducing bootlegging and the amount of alcohol coming into the community illegally. However, it is unclear whether the decision has had a positive affect.

On the one hand he said the number of callouts for RCMP  “have grown a fair amount.” However, he attributed a lot those calls to people calling the police to report public drunkenness.

“The crime side of it is nothing major, there’s just some people that feel uneasy when they see someone stumbling down the road in broad daylight so they call RCMP right away.”

He added that more people have been seeking help to cut down on the consumption of alcohol.

“We have an addictions coordinator so anyone who needs help can use our addictions counsellor who works five days a week,” he said. “Alcohol is one of the biggest addictions our counsellor deals with on a day to basis.”

The future of alcohol sales in Baker Lake

Under the territorial government’s liquor laws, individual communities have the ability to set their own restrictions related to the sale of alcohol. 

The question being presented by the new plebiscite is “are you in favour of replacing the current unrestricted system in the hamlet of Baker Lake and surrounding area to establish an alcohol education committee.”

Under the previous regulated system Baker had an alcohol education committee. It was abolished with the 2018 vote. According to the details set out in the plebiscite, if the community votes in favour of bringing back restrictions, a new alcohol education committee would be “responsible for promoting alcohol awareness and education as well as regulating the purchase, sale and import of alcohol in the community.”

In order to overturn the current system, at least 60 per cent of voters would have to be in favour of restoring the alcohol education committee.

Aksawnee said that given the controversy surrounding the last vote the new plebiscite would allow the people of Baker Lake to have their voices heard.

“That plebiscite, it’s their voice and it’s their chance to use this voice,” he said. “Should we become restricted that will be entirely up to the voters.”

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