Amanda Eecherk is worried her grocery bills will skyrocket after Canada Post closed a loophole that people across Nunavut were using to stock their pantries with items shipped for free through Amazon Prime.

A can of tomatoes costs $10 in Rankin Inlet, says the 42-year-old mother.

But with a slight change to her postal code when purchasing through Amazon, Eecherk could get almost 10 cans sent to the hamlet on the northwestern side of Hudson Bay for the same cost

“Amazon provided the relief that we needed,” she said.

Amazon's paid subscription service provides free delivery for online shopping across Canada except for remote locations, the company said in an email. While customers in Iqaluit qualify for the offer, all other communities in Nunavut are excluded.

The vast territory has some of the highest food costs and rates of food insecurity in Canada. Data released by Statistics Canada in 2020 indicates 57 per cent of households in the territory experienced food insecurity in 2017-18.

A March 2018 food price survey in the territory found Nunavummiut in general paid more than twice as much as Ottawa shoppers would have.

Eecherk said inflation has worsened the issue. A cucumber that would have cost $2.79 in Rankin Inlet a few years ago now sells for $5.99.

She said she was able to save money on groceries by using the simple postal code scheme.

In the Amazon checkout section, she said she put all the correct information but changed the local postal code of X0C 0G0 to a fake one — X0C 0G1. Amazon Prime marked it as free and it was delivered to the Rankin Inlet post office.

"Saving that money, then you knew you had money in the bank account for the gas ... not luxury items, but fresh produce,” Eecherk said.

The loophole was closed after Canada Post ramped up enforcement of its long-standing policy to return items with wrong addresses in Nunavut.

The mail service said items with incorrect addresses require additional processing, most often done by hand.

“When considerable numbers of parcels arrive with the incorrect address, working to determine where each one is supposed to go means more time trying to sort through the pile and less time serving customers,” Lisa Liu with Canada Post media relations said in an email.

It slows down the entire system for everyone, Liu said

Canada Post has been facing financial difficulties. The Crown corporation’s annual report showed a $748-million loss before tax last year and gave a dire warning of its future if changes aren't made.

Shipping charges through Canada Post are either paid by the user or by an online retailer that decides how much to pass on to customers.

Nunavummiut aren’t asking for free shipping, Eecherk said, just reasonable prices.

She went on Amazon this week to see how much $100 of groceries would end up costing on the site. The result was an additional $167 in shipping fees.

Krista Matthews has started an online petition calling for Amazon Prime to extend its free shipping services to the all communities in the North.

The mental health and crisis response co-ordinator for Cambridge Bay, a hamlet on Victoria Island, said access to affordable goods shouldn’t be limited by geography. People she works with have been using the postal code loophole to survive, she said.

Amazon did not respond to questions on the petition or the possibility of expanding free shipping to the North.

Matthews said she wished someone from the corporation would travel to the region to see why reasonable shipping costs are crucial.

"I wish we could just show them the realities of the North, so they could maybe find some kind of heart,” she said.

“I don't know if there's any heart in business.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2024.