With 184 signatures in hand, Cecelia Ayaruak presented a petition to close the beer and wine store to Rankin Inlet council Monday, Aug. 26.
“I only did this because I really love my beautiful community,” said Ayaruak, standing and reading from her petition.
She talked about frontline workers being exhausted dealing with the perceived rise in social ills attributed to the beer and wine store, which opened late 2021, plus Elder abuse, underage drinking and other issues arising in the fallout.
“You as elected people for Rankin Inlet, please consider this, because I am dead serious,” said Ayaruak. “If it doesn’t go, I will do something with the community here in Rankin.”
She said the problems from the beer and wine store are affecting everyone in the community.
“We all have to stand together and try and stop it,” she said.
Mayor Harry Towtongie responded that council is not in charge of the store and that the hamlet has advocated on the issue to the Government of Nunavut.
“Right now for us it’s a waiting game with the government,” he said.
Towtongie said he wasn’t sure how to deal with the petition but would be figuring that out.
“We’re dumbfounded to figure out what to do,” he said about the challenges with alcohol in the community. “It was bad, but now it’s gotten worse.”
He emphasized to Ayaruak that the topic has been top of mind for the council.
Deputy mayor Martha Hickes said the pleas for the store to be shut down seem to be falling on deaf ears.
Coun. Kelly Lindell said she understands there are issues arising in town, “but we’re also here to represent all of Rankin, and Rankin did vote for the beer and wine store.”
She talked about wanting more public input from the community.
“If the majority want the beer and wine store, then I would want to know that before I decide to shut it down or keep it open,” said Lindell. “I don’t want to sit here and make the decision for the whole community based on what I think.”
Sales up, petition nonbinding
As of Aug. 31, sales at the Rankin Inlet beer and wine store were up seven per cent compared to the same time period in 2022, according to the Department of Finance, who elaborated that the best metric is comparing the sales of “standard drinks,” which better measures alcohol sold. By that measure, sales are up about six per cent.
In an email to Kivalliq News, the department said Finance Minister Lorne Kusugak and senior officials met with the hamlet in June to discuss concerns regarding alcohol use in the community.
“Rankin Inlet hamlet council has since passed a formal motion to request an immediate reduction in the daily purchase limits by 50 per cent, and to review changing the store’s operating days/hours,” states the email.
“Finance is currently working to address this motion from Council.”
This past week, the hamlet forwarded Ayaruak’s petition to close the store.
“However, they did not make a formal motion or endorsement of the petition,” stated the department. “Finance will consider the petition as an indication of interest from some community members to close the NULC store.”
The department went on to say there is no process in territorial legislation to close an NULC store by petition or plebiscite – and store purchase limits can’t be changed by the store, NULC or minister either.
“Because purchase limits are set in regulation within the Liquor Act, it would require Finance to prepare a legislative proposal to change the regulations and seek cabinet approval to make the change,” stated the department.
“As mentioned before, Finance is currently working on a proposal to reduce the store’s daily purchase limits. However, this process takes some time – if approved, any changes would take effect at earliest by late 2023 or early 2024.”
On a broader scope, the department is looking at instituting territorial limits on liquor imports from southern retailers and conducting a comprehensive review of the Liquor Act with the goal of making “major changes” to how liquor is managed in the territory.