A series of recommendations to limit alcohol sales in the La Ronge area is sparking a fierce discussion in the community.
The Northern Alcohol Strategy, a committee created by the province to work on community-based solutions, presented 49 recommendations to the La Ronge town council this week.
Those recommendations included reducing the hours alcohol can be sold — including at bars, implementing a five per cent alcohol sales tax in town and eliminating verbal last calls at drinking establishments.
But the most controversial options suggest banning all alcohol sales on Sundays, end-of-month paycheque days and days when residents receive Canada Child Benefit (CCB) cheques.
Council voted 5-2 to support the list in principle, but separated the paycheque and CCB provisions for further debate.
"Nobody's ready to make a decision on that at this point," Councillor Matthew Klassen said.
He noted there has been support for the paycheque recommendations, but significant blowback as well.
Tania Colbert, general manager of the Northland Motor Hotel and "Lands" bar, posted the recommendations on her Facebook page Sunday.
"Are people going to start driving to the city to get booze, and drive back drunk? Do you think the town has the right to tell people how to spend (their) money?" she asked in a comment left six minutes after the original post.
The post generated an extensive discussion, including comments from the town's mayor.
"We as a community are fed up with all the violence, broken windows, hospital visits, wilful damage, family violence, drunks walking or driving up and down the streets, and children who are neglected because they have no food, and their adult minders who sleep all day and party all night," Ron Woytowich wrote.
However, Woytowich was one of two council members who voted against the recommendations in a meeting Wednesday.
He also suggested the council "outright said" they didn't support banning alcohol sales on certain days.
But the motion voted on and approved by councillors read "THAT the Town of La Ronge Council supports, in principle, the measures put forward by the Northern Alcohol Strategy Committee, however will require further review and public consultation prior to adopting with specific respect to" the paycheque days recommendations.
The council held a private meeting with bar and lounge owners to discuss the rule proposals, and are promising more consultation moving forward.
"There's certain aspects that have to be reviewed and consulted on further," Councillor Klassen said, adding: "But I definitely think it could be a good thing for our community."
HOSPITAL VISITS RISE AROUND PAYCHEQUE PERIODS
Carla Frohaug with the National Alcohol Strategy said the recommendations stemmed from 18 months of research and community consultation.
"Our job is to provide information, ideas and suggestions for changes to communities who ask for it," she said, noting the recommendations were based off evidence from the community and best practices elsewhere.
She emphasized their recommendations don't necessarily represent the views of the province.
Dr. James Irvine, medical officer for northern Saskatchewan, worked with the group to collect evidence used in their report.
He said the data shows a significant negative impact on La Ronge from alcohol abuse.
"We see the impact in injuries, violence and motor vehicle deaths," he said.
Irvine noted over 50 per cent of hospital admissions were due to alcohol-related injuries, and drunk driving collisions were occurring at 1.5 times the rate as the rest of the province despite fewer people per capita having vehicles.
He said hospital admissions and school absenteeism also significantly increased around end-of-month paydays and when residents received their CCB cheques.
The recommendation to ban alcohol sales on those days stemmed from data collected from Australia.
Irvine said a comparable Australian community saw a significant drop in consumption, violence and admissions to women's shelters after making similar changes.
"The project was successful in that community," he said. "Now it's a matter of how we can adapt it and make it work in northern Saskatchewan."
"It's important that this is community driven."
The town of La Ronge will hold their next business forum on the matter on July 18.
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