Comparing Ponoka to Wetaskiwin after 2009

Ponoka businesspeople and residents were presented with a barrage of information regarding the effects of alcohol and policing statistics

Ponoka businesspeople and residents were presented with a barrage of information regarding the effects of alcohol and policing statistics during a Coffee with Council presentation Jan. 15 at the Kinsmen Community Centre.

The meeting had two parts: presentations from Don Voaklander, a researcher for the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research at the University of Alberta, and RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm, followed by councillors and residents speaking to each other casually about the proposed business hours bylaw.

There was quite a bit of information to digest and the purpose of these stories is to present it in a clear way. Further interviews were conducted with the presenters as well as councillors, residents and a representative from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.

Comparing Ponoka to Wetaskiwin

There are recognizable trends in Wetaskiwin and Ponoka’s police and hospital statistics, explained Don Voaklander, researcher for the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research at the University of Alberta.

He researched and compared Wetaskiwin and Ponoka statistics on: injury emergency visits, vehicle collisions and non-vehicle collisions; assault emergency visits, impaired charges, self-harm injury visits and assaults.

He compiled the information from Alberta Health Services and Wetaskiwin RCMP to determine trends after that bylaw was implemented at the beginning of 2010. Voaklander studied the years between 2006 and 2011.

There has been a reduction of five to 50 per cent in the chance one of the above mentioned events may occur, Vauxhall explained. There appears to be consistent reduction in injury and enforcement outcomes.

Hospitals do not score an emergency visit as alcohol-related but Voaklander believes assaults and self-injuries generally result from alcohol use. “These are the typical kinds of things that alcohol might be a factor in them…It’s what we call an ecological analysis. We’re kind of making a connection there that’s not at the individual level or data.”

Voaklander suggests benefits of restricting hours

Restricting access to alcohol typically stops unplanned extra drinking; a person with a chronic issue might have the funds to go to a bar and drink, he said. “They start drinking early and they run out so there’s no other place to go. So it’s a bit of a harm reduction strategy.”

Restricting the hours might also stop people from driving to other locations as the further away someone has to go to buy alcohol, the less it is economically viable. “At a certain point the driving distance gets too far to think about.”

Follow up questions

People were allowed to ask follow up questions only to clarify information presented and one person asked if the statistics regarding alcohol use included First Nations people. Voaklander said it included those who have taken the surveys and he believes there are not many First Nations residents who responded to them. He believes young men also did not take the survey.

“With alcohol surveys it’s funny; often that party group of males between 20 and 35, which are the real heavy drinkers, they are always the folks that are least likely to respond to the survey so the rates are probably higher than what the survey says based on the non-response of those high-risk groups,” explained Voaklander.

He added there are some caveats around the information presented since there are only two years of study available since Wetaskiwin passed its bylaw. “We really need about four years to determine a trend.”

There are other factors that can affect information such as weather trends. If there is extreme driving conditions from icy roads then there might be more visits to the hospital. “You can see that there’s a general downward trend in most of the health statistics but that’s following a general downward trend in most of Canada.”

A postal code analysis is needed to better study information in surrounding communities after the Wetaskiwin bylaw was passed, said Voaklander.

Jim Hamilton wondered if hospital injury information showed whether they were alcohol-related. Voaklander said they are not coded to show if alcohol was part of that and motor vehicle collisions were the same. “We have to do more work to tease out what is what but science takes a while.”