Community-driven alcohol policy in Canada’s North

Exploring community-driven alcohol policy as a strategy for FASD prevention

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, photo via flickr, by Hyougoushi

I’ve blogged before about a group of indigenous women in Australia who led a campaign to place a ban on the sale of full strength alcohol in their community. (See earlier posts Yajilarra: the story of the women of Fitzroy Crossing and FASD Prevention in Australia’s Ord Valley).

While I’ve seen bits and pieces on communities in Canada which have attempted to address alcohol-related harms, including rates of FASD, I was delighted to bump into a recent review article Community-driven alcohol policy in Canada’s northern territories 1970–2008. The authors examine community-driven alcohol policy for 78 primarily First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut between 1970 and 2008.

In Canada, in the 1970s, provisions were introduced in provincial and territorial Liquor Control Acts that allowed communities to decide, through plebiscite, their own approach to alcohol control. Communities in this study ranged in size from 40 people to 19,000 people.

Some of their findings:

  • Fort Simpson, NWT was the first community in the north to implement a community-based alcohol policy in 1972.  Licensing hours were restricted which limited the hours in which alcohol could be sold during the week.
  • By 1980, 32% (25) of the studied communities had passed some form of local alcohol control legislation.
  • By 1990, a further 5 communities introduced new policies, while 2 had removed their previous prohibitions.
  • By March 31, 2008, half (39) of the communities in the sample had had some form of alcohol restriction.
  • Policies included approaches such as making communities completely dry (where alcohol is entirely prohibited) to restricting the quantity of alcohol allowed for individual possession, limiting liquor store hours or regulating the sale and use of alcohol in public places or gatherings.
  • Communities with regulations tend to have smaller and younger populations, a greater percentage of people with First Nations, Métis or Inuit origin and are more geographically isolated than those with no regulation.

While the empirical evidence documenting the effects of these policies is lacking (e.g., does restricted or prohibited alcohol use lead to less binge drinking or incidences of violence or fewer diagnoses of FASD?), the authors comment:

“The compilation of these policies over the 38 year period of this study represents the first step in trying to understand more about not only the impact of the policies themselves for northern people, but the implications of the policy process and the role and leadership of aboriginal people in this regard.” (p. 39)

For more on northern Canada, see earlier posts:


Davison, C., Ford, C.S., Peters, P.A., Hawe, P. (2011). Community-driven alcohol policy in Canada’s northern territories 1970–2008. Health Policy, 102(1): 34-40. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071 PMID: 21757249

Further Reading: Community-driven alcohol regulation in indigenous communities

Ch. 3: From community crisis to community control in the Fitzroy Valley. In The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. (2011). Social Justice Report 2010. Australian Human Rights Commission.

Berman M, Hull T, May P. (2000). Alcohol control and injury death in Alaska native communities: wet, damp and dry under Alaska’s local option law. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 61(March (2)):311–9.

Kovas AE, McFarland BH, Landen MG, Lopez AL, May PA. (2008). Survey of American Indian alcohol statutes, 1975–2006: evolving needs and future opportunities for tribal health. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 69(March (2)):183–91.

Margolis SA, Ypinazar VA, Reinhold M. (2008). The impact of supply reduction through alcohol management plans on serious injury in remote indigenous communities in remote Australia: a ten-year analysis
using data from the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 43(1):104–10.



One thought on “Community-driven alcohol policy in Canada’s North

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s