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.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Police in Austin, Texas, confirm pursuit of bombing suspect

    World News CBC News
    Police in Texas say they are working an officer-involved shooting but it is unclear if it's related to the recent spate of bombings. The Austin Police Department tweeted early Wednesday morning that the shooting happened in the 1700 block of N. Source
  • Boko Haram returns kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, witnesses say

    World News CTV News
    LAGOS, Nigeria - Boko Haram extremists have returned an unknown number of the 110 girls abducted from their Nigeria boarding school a month ago with an ominous warning, witnesses said Wednesday. The fighters rolled into town around 2 a.m. Source
  • Canadian drug mule in Australia says role was to make cocaine smuggling look like vacation

    Canada News CTV News
    SYDNEY, Australia - A Canadian woman told an Australian court on Wednesday that her only role in a plot to smuggle cocaine worth $16 million into Sydney was to make the luxury cruise ship operation look like a vacation. Source
  • Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson dead at 91

    World News CBC News
    Billionaire Wall Street financier Peter Peterson, who co-founded private equity firm Blackstone Group LP and served as U.S. President Richard Nixon's commerce secretary, died on Tuesday of natural causes, his family said. He was 91. "As a first-generation American born in Kearney, Nebraska, Pete exceeded all of his expectations in becoming a successful businessman, statesman and philanthropist," the Peterson family said in a statement. Source
  • Police surround area bombing suspect believed to be holed up

    World News CTV News
    AUSTIN, Texas -- Federal and local authorities converged early Wednesday on an area where they said the suspect in the recent spate of bombings was holed up, law enforcement said. The news comes as the capital city remains on edge following a series of blasts that have killed two people and seriously wounded four others since March 2. Source
  • Canadian drug mule says she made cocaine cruise a vacation

    Canada News CBC News
    A Canadian woman told an Australian court on Wednesday that her only role in a plot to smuggle cocaine worth $16 million US into Sydney was to make the luxury cruise ship operation look like a vacation. Source
  • Canada-wide warrant issued for suspect in assault of man with autism

    Canada News CBC News
    Police in Ontario say a man from B.C. is one of three suspects in a "vicious" assault caught on video last week. Peel Regional Police said in a statement that Ronjot Singh Dhami, 25, is one of three men suspected of beating the victim, a man with autism, at a Mississauga bus station on March 13. Source
  • University talk featuring anti-immigration speaker Faith Goldy cancelled after fire alarm pulled

    Canada News CBC News
    A public talk organized at Wilfrid Laurier University featuring controversial speaker Faith Goldy was cancelled due to a fire alarm being pulled on Tuesday night. More than 175 people lined up at Paul Martin Centre in Waterloo, Ont. Source
  • North Korean media say diplomacy is strength, not weakness

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO -- North Korea's recent moves to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula are evidence of its confidence and national strength, not a sign of weakness, according to its state-run media. The attack against criticism of its diplomatic efforts is surprising because North Korea's media have yet to report virtually any of the activity. Source
  • Sidewalk Labs 'hadn't foreseen' data concerns in designing Toronto neighbourhood

    Canada News CBC News
    Sidewalk Labs "hadn't foreseen" how fiercely Canadians would demand that their data be retained within the country when it first sought out to design a "people first" high-tech neighbourhood in east Toronto, says one of the local leaders working with the start-up, which is owned by Google's parent company Alphabet. Source