The government of Northwest Territories Minister of Finance, Caroline Wawzonek announced that after careful consideration, the GNWT will not be closing liquor stores at this point in time.
The GNWT’s position on the sale and availability of liquor during the current COVID-19 pandemic was addressed following reports of multiple communities bringing forth requests to the government to strongly restrict liquor sales in their respective communities due to affect liquor has on the congregation of community members in gatherings to socialize.
Including but not limited to Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya who announced in a press conference late Wednesday April 8th that the Dene Nation had passed a motion calling on the GNWT
to immediately institute restrictions on the sale of alcohol and cannabis through the rationing of alcohol and cannabis, restricted hours of sale, increased monitoring to curtail bootleggers and support for communities to use authority to prohibit alcohol, should they choose. It is important to note that this motion was passed on April 2nd and 3rd.
Minister Wawzonek adds that although closing liquor stores seems like it would remove dangerous behaviours, research states that removing access to alcohol is likely to create hardship for persons already struggling with addictions and potentially increase the burden on the NWT health care system at a time when its capacity to manage potential COVID-19 cases must be maintained.
“At this time, it is our job to minimize potential additional stresses on these systems. Although on the surface it seems that closing liquor stores would remove dangerous behaviours, research tells us that removing access to alcohol during the emergency response to COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate the addiction-related health and social wellness challenges that we face throughout the territory every day.” Caroline Wawzonek, Minister of Finance
The GNWT’s says its current approach to managing the sale of alcohol is a coordinated and reasonable approach that will continue to allow access to liquor and cannabis in the NWT.
To address potential concerns related to their operation, the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission and operators of the NWT’s liquor stores have made adjustments to their operating hours and sales practices to ensure that customers and staff are safe and able to practice social distancing while in the stores.
The GNWT states that it is also examining how best to implement specific changes to the Liquor Regulations that would allow for a variety of temporary adjustments to further reflect current realities and social distancing requirements.
The announcement ends with the important distinction that when it comes to how to manage alcohol in individual communities, these decisions are best made by the individual communities themselves.
The GNWT reminds Community leaders of the variety of tools already available in the Liquor Act that provide communities with the ability to make decisions about how to manage alcohol within their boundaries, including Temporary Prohibition Orders.
There are currently 15 NWT communities that have plebiscite-approved liquor restrictions or prohibition measures reflected in enforceable regulations and the GNWT is currently working with the communities of Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktuk, and Tulita to enact temporary prohibition orders.