Northern Ontario First Nation Seizes Booze, Kicks Bootleggers Out


Bottles of booze seized by chief and council of North Caribou Lake First Nation in northern Ontario. (Facebook)

By Tim Fontaine, CBC News

40 oz. bottle of hard liquor sells for more than $300 on dry reserve: chief and council

A remote Ontario First Nation’s chief and council seized an illegal alcohol shipment, burned the booze and gave the alleged bootleggers 24 hours to leave the community on Monday.

“If I know something is coming up here, I will stand up for my community, and I know my council will be right there with me,” said North Caribou Lake First Nation chief Dinah Kanate.

“There’s so much destruction caused by alcohol in our community.”

Leaders of the First Nation are fed up with alcohol being sold illegally in their community, where there has been a ban on booze for years.

Northern Store booze

Some of the booze was allegedly smuggled into North Caribou Lake First Nation hidden in dog food containers. (Facebook)

Chief Kanate said she received a tip Monday that booze was being flown into the community.

Rather than waiting for police to fly in from Sioux Lookout, Kanate and her council members intercepted the alcohol at the airport themselves, she said. The community is located approximately 320 km north of Sioux Lookout and is only accessible by air or winter road.

​Coun. Grace Matawapit said when they arrived at the airport, two plastic tubs and two other containers were being moved from a plane into a truck belonging to the Northern Store — the only retailer in the community.

“The chief walked over and instructed the [Northern Store] employee at the wheel of the truck to drive the four pieces to the band office,” said Matawapit. “We followed and the men unloaded the tubs and took them into the board room.”

Photos posted on Facebook by a community member show some of the alcohol hidden in the plastic tubs and even in large dog food containers.

The containers were addressed to one of the Northern Store managers, Matawapit said.

Within hours of the bust, chief and council identified three employees of the Northern Store that they believe were responsible for the shipment. They issued a band council resolution banning them from the First Nation. None of the employees were members of the First Nation, according to chief and council.

‘Alcohol is a killer’

For many years, North Caribou Lake First Nation — also called the Weagamow or Round Lake First Nation — has been dry, meaning no alcohol is supposed to be possessed or consumed.

 Weagamow Lake First Nation

North Caribou Lake Lake First Nation is located 320 kilometers north of Sioux Lookout. (Google)

“Alcohol is a killer and why allow more lives, more families, more children to be affected by the damage that alcohol does?” Matawapit said. “We don’t need that.”

However in recent years the community has still struggled with prescription drugs and alcohol.

Across the country, First Nations have grappled with banning booze on reserves. Some feel banning alcohol only drives drinking underground and creates a market for bootleggers.

Because alcohol is sold at highly inflated prices in remote communities, the 57 bottles that were confiscated had an estimated street value in the thousands of dollars. A 40-ounce bottle of hard liquor can sell for more than $300, according to chief and council.

The community is supposed to be under the jurisdiction of Ontario Provincial Police. However, an officer at the OPP’s Sioux Lookout detachment said they only learned about the incident from Facebook.

Weagamow chief and council

Councillors from the North Caribou Lake First Nation burn confiscated booze over a fire at the local garbage dump on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. (Facebook)

“It looks like they handled it themselves,” said Sgt. Kevin Young.

After the booze was seized, chief and council burned it in a fire at the local dump and the chief shared photos of the blaze on Facebook.

The North Caribou Lake Northern Store was closed on Tuesday afternoon but a person who identified themselves as a relief manager told CBC the store was set to reopen on Wednesday.

“Those individuals that are involved, or allegedly involved, have been removed from the community,” said Derek Reimer, director of business development at the North West Company, which owns the Northern Store chain.

Reimer wouldn’t provide many details other than to say the incident was being investigated by the company.

“We’re sorry that this happened and sincerely apologize to the Weagamow Lake First Nation.”


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