Policy aims to change high rates, culture around heavy drinking in Cape Breton

SYDNEY, N.S. -- Archdeacon Brenda Drake chuckles when she describes what has become a traditional send-off for the dead in the Cape Breton community she has ministered to for the last dozen years.

See Full Article

Funeral after funeral, the Anglican church leader says she has watched mourners tuck miniature bottles of booze, pints and even cases of beer into caskets in plain sight.

"I would love to know how much liquor is buried in Cape Breton because almost everybody goes with a bottle!" she said with a laugh, adding that she often receives bottles and liquor store gift cards from congregants.

"They may do that in other places, but they don't do it right in front of the minister....It's just so acceptable that it's become normal. We don't even realize that the rest of the world isn't the same as us."

The story highlights a problem that has troubled the small island for decades. Now municipal politicians, police and health-care workers are trying a unique strategy aimed at curbing a culture of heavy drinking that has yielded the inglorious catchphrase, 'Cape Breton drunk.'

Samantha Hodder, a mental health and addictions specialist with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, led a study into alcohol consumption in Cape Breton and has drafted a municipal alcohol policy that is expected to be adopted by council next month.

Hodder wants to change the acceptance of heavy drinking with policies that would designate some municipal facilities and events as alcohol-free, prohibit alcohol ads at family oriented events, not allow alcohol companies to have naming rights to municipal facilities and end 'Happy Hour' and 'last call.'

She says the policy, if accepted, would beef up the enforcement of existing liquor licensing regulations that forbid drinking in places like dressing rooms, baseball fields and parks on municipal land.

Overall, she says the messaging around alcohol needs a wholesale change in Cape Breton, which has some of the highest rates of heavy drinking in the country.

"We do not need to be exposing our children to these sorts of alcohol-related ads," she said. "We know that that plays a significant role in the emergence of the culture around alcohol."

The stats seem to bear out the suggestion that people drink more heavily in Cape Breton and start drinking earlier, at around age nine.

Over half the population of people aged 20 to 34 in Cape Breton said they drank heavily in one month, compared to the national average of 34 per cent, according to Statistics Canada in 2013.

A provincial drug use survey in 2012 also revealed the distressing case of a seven-year-old drinking a beer outside his post office. One paramedic reported bringing in highly intoxicated 12 year olds after finding them unconscious in ditches.

When asked why the small population has such high rates of excessive drinking, Hodder cites a bleak mix of chronic unemployment, outmigration and boredom that can lead to increased crime, depression and family breakdowns.

"You look at the determinants of health and it's a perfect storm here," she says. "One in three children in Cape Breton are growing up in poverty compared to one in five in Nova Scotia. All of those things are contributing factors."

Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac, who co-wrote the municipal alcohol policy with Hodder, has seen first-hand the damaging effects of alcoholism and the 'normalization' of excessive drinking.

In one year he reviewed 100 police calls and found that 70 of them had some connection to alcohol use, whether it be impaired driving, domestic violence or petty crimes.

"I've seen so many family breakups and so many women assaulted where alcohol was a huge factor and I've seen so many children affected by it," said the 30-year police force veteran.

"At 13 years of age, youth in Nova Scotia and maybe younger in Cape Breton are being exposed to alcohol and this is becoming socially acceptable behaviour and it's wrong."

John, a recovering alcoholic who didn't want to use his full name, knows well the draw of his hometown's permissive attitude when it comes to alcohol.

Living in Ontario and Alberta years ago, he would survey the bar at the end of the night and find almost all of the patrons were familiar faces from the East Coast.

Still, he says he returned to Glace Bay because "drinking at home was a lot easier. It was more accepted."

"Why is that? It's our culture -- drink, drink, drink," says the 65-year-old former miner who's been sober for two decades. "There's a saying in Cape Breton -- 'You got to get right out of her, boy.' That's not normal.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Hoping to lure back tourists, Greece reopens beaches after lockdown

    World News CTV News
    ATHENS -- With widely spaced sun loungers and regular disinfections, Greece reopened its organized beaches on Saturday as the popular Mediterranean holiday destination eases COVID-19 curbs in preparation for the return of foreign visitors next week. Source
  • First bottles of Chernobyl spirits seized by Ukrainian authorities

    World News CTV News
    TORONTO -- The first shipment of a spirit drink made from apples grown near the Chernobyl nuclear plant have been seized by Ukrainian security services for unknown reasons, according to the company that produces it. On Thursday, the Chernobyl Spirit Company announced that the first batch of 1,500 bottles of their “ATOMIK” Apple Spirit had been recently confiscated by Kyiv City Prosecutors following an investigation by Ukrainian secret services (SBU). Source
  • 'Hold onto the light': Toronto to vaccinate 50% of all adults with first doses this weekend

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Half of all adults in Toronto will have received the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccine this weekend, marking an important milestone, officials say, in the fight against the deadly disease. The City of Toronto announced the update in a news release on Saturday, saying officials anticipate that first doses of the vaccines will be administered to at least 50 per cent of people over the age of 18 by the end of the weekend. Source
  • Alberta now screening patients who visit province's COVID-19 hotspots

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- Alberta Health Services tells CTV News they have adopted a practice where they inquire about the recent travel history of patients being admitted to hospital, and add that Banff and Fort McMurray are on that list. Source
  • NHL relaxing virus protocols for vaccinated playoff teams

    Canada News CBC News
    The NHL is relaxing virus protocols during the playoffs for teams that reach a threshold for vaccination. The league sent a memo to teams and players Friday night outlining changes that take hold once 85% or more of the travelling party has been fully vaccinated. Source
  • Bomb blasts kill dozens near school in Afghan capital

    World News CBC News
    Multiple blasts targeted a school in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more, mostly students, a senior Interior Ministry official said. The official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that most of the casualties were students coming out of the Sayed ul Shuhada school. Source
  • At least 30 killed in bomb blast near girls' school in Afghan capital

    World News CBC News
    Multiple blasts targeted a school in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more, mostly students, a senior Interior Ministry official said. The official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that most of the casualties were students coming out of the Sayed ul Shuhada school. Source
  • Quebec COVID-19 hospitalizations drop by 27, province adds 958 new cases

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Quebec reported Saturday that 958 more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 357,174. Of those, 337,538 people are reported to have recovered from the disease, an increase of 1,033. Source
  • Birthday at skate park brings unwelcome $880 fine for Ottawa teen's family

    Canada News CBC News
    An Ottawa family says they were shocked to receive an $880 fine days after letting their 14-year-old son use a nearby skateboarding park on his birthday. Merrick Batstone's family decided to celebrate his 14th birthday on May 3 by visiting Legacy Skatepark to enjoy some fresh air and exercise. Source
  • Bomb kills at least 25 near girls' school in Afghan capital

    World News CTV News
    KABUL -- A bomb exploded near a girl's school in a majority Shiite district of west Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 25 people, many them young pupils between 11 and 15 years old, Afghan government spokesmen said. Source