Legislation passed made the alcohol intoxication of an Indigenous person, both on- and off-reserve, a crime resulting in an one-month jail sentence. Failure to name the provider of alcohol could increase the sentence by another 14 days. This crime was included in the Indian Act, which became legislation in 1876. In 1887, being an Indian in a state of intoxication was made punishable by either a fine or imprisonment or both. In addition, the police were empowered to arrest an intoxicated Indian without a warrant and to confine him until sober, at which point, he was to be brought to trial. In R. vs Drybones (1998), the Supreme Court of canada found that off-reserve intoxication offenses were inoperative under the Canadian Bill of Rights. In 1985, Bill C-31, an Act to amend the Indian Act was passed, repealing the substantive provisions relating to liquor offences on and off reserve. In their place, band councils were given by-law powers.
The criminalization of liquor use both on and off reserve constituted an additional means for the canadian government to assert control over Indian bands, as well as implement surveillance and policing of Indigenous people on the Plains. Following the introduction of liquor as a trading good (please see database entry entitled: Emergence and Prohibition of Alcohol as a Trade Commodity on the Plains for further information on this subject), and combined with the devastating effects of fierce fur trade competition, several Indigenous communities were affected by alcoholism, as well as many other social ills such as poverty, displacement, suicide, etc. Many of these social issues were directly caused by rapid socio-economic changes. Using this situation as a justification for imposing a ban on liquor sales and intoxication in Indigenous communities, the government added yet another tool of control and subversion to its policies regarding Indigenous people. The roots of Indigenous over-representation in the justice system begin during this period, as many communities faced substance abuse crises, but were not given any tools to properly solve these issues. Rather, Indigenous people were fined, and sometimes sent to jail. -------------- The federal policy also stems from Eurocentric views that position Indigenous people as morally inferior to non-Indigenous people, and more easily prone to succumb to temptations from moral vices such as gambling and alcohol abuse. Racist attitudes about Indigenous people informed many federal policies, including other bans such as the ban on cultural practices like the potlatch and the ban on gambling. Please see database entry entitled: Indian Act Amendment - Ability to Arrest for Gambling or Intoxication for further details on this subject.
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality