Wetaskiwin mayor, RCMP say liquor bylaw works

Putting together a clear understanding of how the City of Wetaskiwin’s liquor store hours has been of benefit is a challenge

Putting together a clear understanding of how the City of Wetaskiwin’s liquor store hours has been of benefit is a challenge when police say it has helped and yet liquor store owners say it has hurt their business.

Ponoka councillors passed a first reading of the same bylaw to seek feedback from the community last week and some of the questions people posed was how can Wetaskiwin be compared to Ponoka.

Speaking for Wetaskiwin RCMP, Cpl. Christian Delisle feels there has been a drop in liquor related crimes since the bylaw was passed in 2009. He said law enforcers spent much of their time dealing with liquor related offences later in the evening. “It was too many vagrancies with drunks that triggered the idea…we wanted to tackle that.”

He believes it is a turning point in Wetaskiwin.

“It did improve, we see a lot less fights a night,” stated Delisle.

Police statistics for Wetaskiwin from 2009 were not available at press time but information from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2011 show some details.

There were 680 liquor related crimes, up from 627 in 2010 for the same period and 64 counts of impaired driving, up from 52. It should be noted that liquor related crimes could be anything do with the liquor act, drinking activities or provincial laws and do not show what type of activity they relate to.

Before the bylaw was enacted, most liquor stores were open until 1 a.m. and some were open until 2 a.m. explained Bobby Jobin, Budget Beer and Spirits manager.

His store used to be open until midnight and until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Conditions were not ideal to sell after 1 a.m. as most of the customers at that time were not in a condition to buy any, he said.

Sales dropped after the bylaw was passed however to about 20 to 25 per cent less than previous years. “It affected us big time.”

The store went from seven full-time staff to six members and only one of them is full- time.

“The sales have leveled off but are down compared to previous years,” explained Jobin.

When the bylaw was discussed, Jobin attended city council sessions to voice his concerns and he remembers other store owners having heated debates with councillors over the proposal.

Since the bylaw was passed, Jobin has heard of instances of bootlegging occurring within the city.

“They said they were trying to cut back on crime and street vagrancy,” he explained.

He believes that it has not changed much in that time however but has affected other businesses negatively as well such as gas stations and convenience stores. Grab and dashes still occur, he stated, and he believes people are travelling either to Millet, Leduc or Ponoka to buy liquor.

Despite liquor store hours being restricted, two more liquor stores have opened in Wetaskiwin, explained Mayor Bill Elliot.

The bylaw was initially proposed by a coalition of businesses and community members. At the time there were people in support, who felt it would reduce crime, and those who opposed the bylaw, mostly that suggested it would hurt their business.

He believes the addition of two liquor stores is contrary to what those who were opposed to the bylaw claimed.

“It seems to me that even the family violence unit noticed a drop in direct referrals,” said Elliot.

The hope of the bylaw was that Mounties would be freed up from vagrancy issues and alcohol-related crimes and would be able to deal with their regular duties, he said. Since that time Elliot has been approached by one company to look at the bylaw again.

“We’ve had one pawnshop owner who would like to revisit that,” said Elliot.

Wetaskiwin was the first municipality to create a liquor sales bylaw in Alberta, said Elliot and he has received interest from other councils over their decision. He believes the bylaw is positive for the community.

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