A long-awaited strategy to address alcohol use in Prince Albert has been launched.
Members of the alcohol strategy steering committee told media Tuesday the plan is a “living document,” and in no way final.
“What we’re trying to do is come up with a way that alcohol is accepted in our community, but there’s a culture that can deal with it,” said Rick Orr, councillor and steering committee member.
“We want a healthy community. We want it to be socially acceptable, but the social norms have to be dealt with as a community.”
“We’re a gathering place; we’re the place where people come to socialize.” – Rick Orr, councillor and steering committee member
Recommendations in the document include more proactive policing and peer support, with less peer pressure and larger fines for impaired driving and underage drinking.
President of MADD Prince Albert, and steering committee member, Trina Cockle said recommendations in the document came from community input, and added they didn’t leave any suggestions out.
“You can’t take things out, but we can certainly add,” Cockle said.
“That’s why we need to have a double check with the community. We’re going to review the document yearly (and) review successes as they happen.”
Some recommendations found in the alcohol strategy are impossible to achieve at the municipal level, such as increasing the legal drinking age to 21 and legalizing marijuana.
Orr said having the recommendations included in the strategy does not mean they are adopted.
“It’s simply there to be talked about,” he said.
Facts found inside the document state 5,595 people were arrested for public intoxication from May 2009 to May 2012.
That alone consumed more than $2.5 million of the Prince Albert Police Service’s budget.
In 2012, police spent 1,341 hours on public intoxication arrests.
When questioned why public intoxication rates and the amount spent on alcohol are higher in Prince Albert than other cities, Orr claimed it was because P.A. is a gateway city to the north.
“We’re a gathering place; we’re the place where people come to socialize,” he said.
Much of the drafted alcohol strategy concerns underage drinking, with recommendations to work towards making drinking unpopular, promoting alcohol-free events and including youth on advisory boards.
As such, students were involved in focus groups throughout the formation of the draft document.
“We had really good input from youth both urban and rural,” said Shelly Storey with Prince Albert’s Catholic and Sask. Rivers school divisions.
“Certain focus questions were asked, and that is all part of the strategy. Youth are very honest, and one thing they did say is that they’d like to go to things that aren’t focused on alcohol; they’d like to have more activities where alcohol isn’t even necessarily there.”
Westmore Public High School principal Cory Trann could only speak for his school, but said focus groups worked to include a wide variety of youth demographics.
“We had students in that Grade 10, 11 and 12 area who have some experience. We sent more than just our class presidents and student leaders,” Trann said.
He said data was also collected from schools, providing input on how youth feel about alcohol.
The road to addressing alcohol use
Movement was first underway in 2012 to work towards a community alcohol strategy.
The project lost momentum in late 2014 and summer of 2015, which steering committee members attributed to a shakeup of leadership.
Cockle said she understands why the community was frustrated with how long it took to create the alcohol strategy draft.
“I wish we could pick up the pace, but I think it’s such an important scenario we have to be careful we’re taking all the proper steps to get there,” she said.
“I can understand their frustration, but we’re not going to give up on this.”
The unveiling of the alcohol strategy was just a step on the path to a completed plan.
Community consultations will take place at the P.A. Exhibition Centre on May 5 and May 12 at 6:30 p.m., where the community can continue to add their thoughts and opinions on the alcohol strategy, and how it moves forward.
The full document can be found online.