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Rankin Inlet beer and wine store stretches support services ‘to the max’

RCMP, council, community members speak out
RCMP Sgt. Patrick Frenette sent a clear message to Rankin Inlet council May 8: the beer and wine store is causing a significant problem in the community and beyond. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Citing grim statistics that seem only to go up, Rankin Inlet RCMP Sgt. Patrick Frenette sent a clear message to hamlet council at its meeting Monday, May 8.

“I don’t know what influence council does have on the minister in charge of the liquor store, but definitely, I think it would be time to have some pretty open conversations,” said Frenette about the impact the beer and wine store is having in Rankin Inlet and the broader Kivalliq.

The store opened in December 2021, and though some crime statistics increased afterward, the RCMP wasn’t sure at first if those figures were related to pandemic restrictions easing or the store itself.

Now, it’s been long enough – and the numbers continue to go up – that Frenette felt confident to point out the problem in Rankin Inlet.

“To be honest with you, Mr. Mayor, the common denominator that I see in the community is the beer and wine store,” he said. “I’m hoping we can have the agreement from council that this is an issue.”

In April, the RCMP responded to 239 calls, with 142 of them having alcohol involved. Eighty-five detainees spent time behind bars, with 13 files resulting in criminal charges and seven more under investigation.

Comparing the year to date to 2022, total calls are up 47 per cent, calls involving alcohol are up 61 per cent, detainees are up 111 per cent and domestic violence is up 244 per cent.

“Our prisoners is what’s really striking here,” said Frenette.

The RCMP is already working at peak summer season levels, he said, with summer only just beginning.

He floated a few ideas for changes with the beer and wine store but said some real discussions need to take place – and the sooner, the better.

“Twenty-four beers a day is not a limit, in my opinion,” said Frenette. “I think if there are no discussions being held with people that can influence the beer and wine store, our statistics are simply going to go up and up and up.”

He added that he wasn’t coming to council to tell them to shut down the beer and wine store, but that there needs to be ideas bounced around and an open roundtable discussion on it.

And not just the RCMP is feeling it. Frenette said all of his community partners are talking about the influence the beer and wine store has had on Rankin Inlet and the whole region.

“We can only sustain statistics like this for so long with the amount of resources and personnel that we have in place to address them,” he said.

If things continue going as they are, he said, “I think Rankin Inlet is going to burn out all their community-based resources.”

‘Stretched to the max’

Pelagie Sharp, executive director of the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre, presented to council next and echoed that sentiment.

“All levels of community supports are getting stretched to the max,” she said, adding that the alcohol-related challenges in the community are getting to be too much to handle.

Frenette added that in discussions with other detachment commanders, the beer and wine store in Rankin Inlet is contributing to alcohol-related issues in other communities as well.

“It’s really affecting every family in Rankin Inlet,” said Mayor Harry Towtongie. “We have to do something. We know that.”

Coun. Kelly Lindell said she knows some people may be upset if limitations are put on the beer and wine store, especially the people who are able to enjoy drinking without it becoming a problem.

“But not everyone can enjoy it,” she said. “That’s the part we need to tackle. How do we help the ones who can’t just enjoy it?”

Coun. Michael Shouldice referenced the “thoughts and prayers” line used regarding tragedies around the world.

“I think we’ve crossed the line, most likely before today, on thoughts and prayers with alcoholism in this community,” said Shouldice. “I think we’ve really got to do something solid, solid. Not just, ‘We’ll write a letter.’”

He said he wouldn’t be shy to suggest Rankin Inlet will shut down the beer and wine store, but added that that proposition comes with trade-offs too, like the loss of jobs at the outlet.

Coun. Chris Eccles suggested council members meet and hash out the subject themselves before taking it to higher levels of government so that they can speak in a unified voice.

“Everybody knows it’s an issue,” said Eccles.

He added that he didn’t join council to get re-elected.

“This is one of those changes you’ve got to set politics aside and say this is what our community needs to do.”