After roughly 40 minutes of discussion between the RCMP and hamlet councillors about Rankin Inlet’s beer and wine store, Sgt. Patrick Frenette ended with a strong statement in the council chambers Tuesday, Nov. 14.
“The reason why I’m so passionate about this is unfortunately the RCMP sees the dark side of every community, not just Rankin Inlet, but every community in the country,” said Frenette, as council debated how to address the continued weight alcohol issues are putting on the community since the opening of the beer and wine store in 2021.
“And what affects me personally is going to houses where mom and dad are intoxicated to the point that they cannot function, there’s no food in the fridge because the money’s been spent on alcohol, and the kids are suffering because of it.”
Another increasingly busy month
In what has become common at the RCMP’s monthly statistics updates to council, Frenette cited more rising numbers and issued an even-more passionate plea for help.
October was one of the busiest months of the year for the RCMP, said Frenette at the meeting, with 290 calls for service and 117 prisoners lodged – 111 of whom were intoxicated.
The police call volume for 2023 is up 23 per cent from 2022, which was already up roughly 30 per cent from 2021, said Frenette.
Of special concern in October for the RCMP sergeant was the police having to lay charges on 24 files in October, “based on the amount of violence” involved in the cases.
Frenette was running on three hours of sleep in the last 29 hours, representing the strain facing the community’s support system.
Despite the beer and wine store’s daily limits being reduced in half, that hasn’t seemed to affect the RCMP’s workload, reported Frenette. The only thing so far that shows a clear correlation is the days when the store is open compared to closed.
“What I’m receiving for information from the public is that people are simply going more often,” said Frenette about the reduction in daily purchase limits.
He added that there hasn’t been a permanent liquor inspector in the community since 2022, adding to the challenges.
“I think that’s a very vital position for our community right now,” said Frenette, adding that he has put some pressure on Iqaluit to find someone.
“Unfortunately, I see a lot of intoxicated people being served at the beer and wine store,” he added, including that he’s keeping a close eye on indications that people may be being overserved at the legion as well.
Frenette again called the 12-beers-per-day limit “not a limit” in his opinion, in terms of alcohol abuse.
A house with no foundation
“Here’s the issue, in my professional opinion,” said Frenette about the circumstances in Rankin Inlet. “The territorial government has opened a beer and wine store, a liquor store, with no substructure to sustain it. What I mean by that is the GN has not created any substance abuse programs, there hasn’t been an increase in counsellors, there haven’t been homeless shelters established. There’s been nothing to support individuals who suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse, period.”
The house is built without a foundation, he said, continuing his metaphor.
“And now the house is going crooked and we’re wondering how to bring it back on track, which is very difficult.”
Ideally, he’d like to see the foundation built up with substance abuse programs, counsellors, more health personnel and mental health workers.
The other options, he continued, would be cutting the daily limits in half again or ultimately shutting down the store.
“I’ve talked to several people that had overcome alcohol issues over the course of their lives and since the beer and wine store opened up again, unfortunately they fell back in that world, because it’s easy access,” he said.
Frenette added that he doesn’t feel the whole community should be punished because some are struggling, though. At the very least, he’d like to see profit from the store go into supportive programming in Rankin Inlet.
Deputy mayor Daniel Kowmuk asked if the RCMP could park outside of the store to provide a presence.
“Wouldn’t have time for that,” said Frenette. “We’re answering sometimes 24 calls a shift. That doesn’t include the paperwork that comes along with it.”
Coun. David Kakuktinniq Jr., who mentioned he was approaching a year of sobriety himself, agreed that there needs to be more programming.
Ball’s in hamlet’s court
Coun. Michael Shouldice told Frenette that, “You didn’t tell us anything new, and I think we should be ashamed of that. We knew that in the spring, we knew that when we went to the radio station, we knew that for several months, we knew that when we asked for a cut down.”
Now council has to take control of the situation itself, he said, advocating for the group to meet exclusively about the beer and wine store to determine next steps.
“We have to meet as a council,” said Shouldice. “We have to talk this through.”
He said the council did meet with the minister of health and minister of finance previously.
“From our lips to their ears, that has been said,” said Shouldice about the concerns Frenette has been bringing up. “Not a lot of solid commitment on the other end. I found that disappointing.”
He said the situation was at an apex.
“I think it’s our job right now to take ahold of this,” said Shouldice.
Frenette said he has only been in Rankin Inlet for 15 months, so he doesn’t know the whole history of the community, but he has heard people wish for the peacefulness before the store opened.
Coun. Harry Niakrok Sr. seemed to endorse that sentiment, talking about his own living situation in his neighbourhood.
“Now it’s almost a daily occurrence where you get screaming and yelling,” he said, comparing it to more quiet times in the past. “People not happy, people yelling and screaming, ‘Call the cops, call the cops.’ It’s really changed in the last few years, even just from my home looking out. There’s a big difference.”
Coun. Martha Hickes suggested council tell the Government of Nunavut that it wants the beer and wine store “shut down completely.”
Frenette noted that alcohol will always be in the community, but the importing process makes it much harder for it to become a problem.
“The difference is in Rankin Inlet that we’ve created a mechanism, which is called the beer and wine store, that makes it very cheap and efficient and easy to access alcohol.”
Since 2017, said Frenette, the record for prisoners in Rankin Inlet was 651. That’s on pace to “almost double” this year, he said, calling it “mind-blowing for any detachment throughout the country.”
Frenette said there are three clear options: address the store, address support programs, or do both.
“I feel that the GN is not supporting town council in these endeavours,” he said.
Coun. Chris Eccles said “the writing’s on the wall now” and council has the green light to move forward with its advocacy, noting that the GN has seemed understanding about the pressures.
Both Hickes and Kowmuk talked about Christmas and colder days coming and how these issues are affecting youth.
“It affects little kids,” said Kowmuk about children seeing intoxicated people fighting, or police kicking in doors. “I’m concerned about that now.”
At the end of the meeting, council scheduled another session the next week to discuss the beer and wine store issue among themselves.
By Stewart Burnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 21, 2023 at 08:16