The Ahousaht First Nation is urging Tofino’s municipal council to limit alcohol sales at local beer and wine stores to slow the catastrophic damage bootleggers are bringing to their community.
The remote island Nation has a population of 2,224 and is a roughly 30 minute boat ride from Tofino.
During a delegation to Tofino’s council on March 8, Ahousaht hereditary chief Richard George, Hasheukumiss, suggested 300-500 bottles of hard liquor are being bought by bootleggers in Tofino and brought to Ahousaht on a weekly basis where they can be sold for anywhere between $60-$200 each.
“No one really imagined what kind of a pandemic and state of emergency we really are in,” he said.
He asked that a new bylaw be enacted in Tofino to limit hard liquor sales at local beer and wine stores to two 26-ounce bottles per customer.
“It’s not going to solve the situation in Ahousaht, but what it’s going to do is slow down the process,” he said. “What I’m really requesting and asking and pleading for at this point is to consider enacting this bylaw on the beer and wine store to slow down the process.”
He said restricting sales at government run liquor stores requires a different process and suggested Ahousaht’s lawyers are working on a class action lawsuit against the federal and provincial government to bring attention to bulk alcohol sales.
“We’re going to a higher level eventually but, in the meantime, we’re really reaching out to get some assistance to slow down this process because we all know when it goes to the higher levels, it could be years before this law gets enacted through the government,” he said.
Thomas Paul, a drug and alcohol counsellor at Ahousaht’s Chah Chum Hii Yup Tiic Mis, said alcohol has caused intergenerational trauma.
“We’ve got layers and layers of trauma that we’re dealing with with our people,” he said.
“It’s really saddening, all the social issues, the things that are happening when our people are under the influence…We can’t tell anyone that they can drink or not, but we can be a part of the solution by enacting laws to slow down this process.”
He suggested that about 90 per cent of the 65 deaths in Ahousaht over the past two years have been alcohol related and urged Tofino to help.
“I’m really grateful and thankful that you’re here listening to us and giving us this time because I am passionate about being part of the solution to do what we can…It felt really good to know that there’s people, our neighbours, who care. That’s where we need to get to, a place of caring. It’s a disease. It doesn’t even need to be a weekend, everyday it’s just become normalized seeing people intoxicated,” he said. “Helping us out with how we can stop the flow of alcohol into this community would be so beneficial. It’s not going to stop it, but it’s a piece of the puzzle to keep moving forward and to start healing.”
Hasheukumiss said the bylaw would be one step of many that need to be taken to address the issue, adding that the First Nation is completing the purchase of a local resort with the intention of turning it into a health and wellness facility.
“Not only for our Nation for a year-round facility to turn the corner, but for our 13 other nations in our Nuu Chah Nulth territory and then reaching across Canada because these facilities are much needed,” he said. “We’re not the only Nation going through the pandemic, I’m calling it, of alcoholism and drugs. It’s really echoed across the whole Nuu Chah Nulth territory and right across Canada.”
Coun. Tom Stere said the district has also been struggling with alcohol-related issues and that council plans to meet with B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch on March 15.
“We’re going to be specifically talking about alcohol policy from a public health and safety perspective and all of the issues that stem from that,” he said.
“You have 100 per cent of my support behind the initiative and, as you pointed out, this is not a solution, this is part of many, many, layers that will be necessary to address this issue, bring it to light and help to incrementally make changes.”
Mayor Dan Law suggested the bylaw request be referred to staff for a legal review and that the district reach out to the province for input and council unanimously agreed.