The grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is asking the province to do more to regulate how much booze individuals can buy at provincially regulated liquor stores, just one week after a Northern Manitoba Chief questioned if the province is doing enough to regulate alcohol sales and prevent bootlegging.
In an interview last week, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Angela Levasseur spoke about a recent temporary booze ban in the First Nations community located 850 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and 65 kilometres west of Thompson, and about the reasons the ban was lifted after April 11.
Levasseur said leaders in the community decided a total booze ban is not something that should continue in NCN, but she also said she continues to be concerned about bootlegging of alcohol in the community and wonders how bootleggers are getting their hands on large quantities of alcohol to sell in NCN, and in other First Nations communities.
“Nobody needs to be purchasing alcohol in those large volumes, and it should set off alarm bells immediately,” Levasseur said last week.
AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said she agrees with Levasseur and she would also like to see efforts ramped up in liquor stores and vendors in Manitoba to prevent the selling of large or bulk amounts of booze that could, in turn, be sold illegally in First Nations communities.
“AMC supports Chief Levasseur in calling for more regulated liquor sales to curb bootlegging and overconsumption,” Merrick said. “AMC calls on the province to regulate how much alcohol is sold across all First Nations.”
Merrick said along with greater regulations, she also wants to see more funding for mental health and addictions services in First Nations communities, because she said many community members are “self-medicating” with alcohol due to unresolved trauma, and she said many often turn to other more dangerous substances and chemicals when they don’t have access to alcohol.
“We must address the reason behind alcohol consumption,” Merrick said. “For many, it has to do with trauma and mental health issues, and in the absence of alcohol, we see that people will go to dangerous lengths to obtain it or substitute it for dangerous illegal substances, putting First Nations citizens in danger, which we must avoid.”
According to Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, which sent a statement to the Winnipeg Sun, provincially regulated liquor stores currently have no limits on how much alcohol individuals can buy, but an MBLL spokesperson said they are working with liquor stores in some communities where bootlegging is prevalent to set some bottle limits.
“Provincial liquor legislation does not set any bottle limits on retail store transactions, and as such in the majority of Liquor Marts, as allowed under law, customers may purchase as much liquor as they choose,” an MBLL spokesperson said.
“However, MBLL has worked closely with the communities of Thompson, Leaf Rapids, Lynn Lake, Wabowden, Snow Lake, Gillam, and Riverton to set bottle limits at the Thompson Liquor Mart, and other nearby liquor vendors.
“These efforts were first undertaken more than 20 years ago to help the community and local law enforcement minimize the negative outcomes resulting from bootlegging.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.