Montreal Lake chief and band council call on government to close liquor stores

The chief and band council of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation is asking the provincial government to close all liquor stores in northern Saskatchewan during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chief Frank Roberts said the government should consider the move as a precautionary measure, especially since it’s already closed bars, casinos and schools.

“Since the bars and night clubs have been shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen an increase of house parties on our First Nation,” Roberts said in a media release. “On behalf of council, we are extremely worried that people at these parties, which involve the use of alcohol, are not practicing social distancing. Consequently, this high-risk behavior of socializing at house parties will only contribute to the spread of COVID-19.”

Roberts said he fully supported an earlier request to close liquor stores made by the FSIN on March 18. FSIN leadership argued that alcohol increased the likelihood of high-risk behaviour, and entice groups of people to gather, which could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in northern Saskatchewan.

“Montreal Lake Cree Nation has joined other First Nations leaders and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations to ensure this message is made to Premier Scott Moe,” Roberts said. “We stand by our decision in doing what is best for our communities and membership. Shut down all liquor sales because we are having issues with alcohol and partying. It is time to act in the best interests of everyone in Saskatchewan.”

Roberts added that bootlegging has also become a problem during the pandemic.

Last week, Premier Scott Moe said it’s unlikely the government will close liquor stores because they don’t want to overwhelm detox and addictions services during a pandemic. He also said closing public liquor stores would simply push more people to a smaller number of private liquor retailors, which would harm any attempts at social distancing.

“There is a balance here that we’re trying to strike,” Moe said on March 25. “I don’t know if any country has quite figured out precisely where the balance needs to be, but we are doing our level best to find it here in Saskatchewan.”

The provincial government has suspended in-person additions recovery meetings during the pandemic to maintain social distancing. However, Moe said recovery group organizers could petition the provincial government to remain open. Some groups are meeting online.

He also said the government may change its mind and close liquor retail outlets at a later date.

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