In 2012, New Brunswick resident, Gerard Comeau was slapped with a $292.50 fine for transporting liquor he bought in Quebec home to drink. At the time, he challenged the ticket in court, claiming that NB’s law against purchasing alcohol from anywhere other than the province was unconstitutional. Comeau won that case in provincial court but the case posed questions about Canada’s laws against transporting alcohol between provinces.
Each province sets it’s own laws and regulations for how much alcohol can be “imported” from other provinces. In New Brunswick, the law limits liquor imports by individuals to 12 pints of beer or one bottle of wine or spirits. Comeau and his lawyers argued that those provincial laws contradict Section 121 of the constitution, which states products from any province “shall … be admitted free into each of the other provinces.” You know, because we’re one big country, not several little ones.
After the case was decided in favour of Comeau, the NB Attorney General appealed the ruling, stating that the federal law only means that there can’t be tariffs and duties on products (hence, “free”) but it does not prohibit the provincial governments from barring products completely. Looks like another example of how crucial it is for laws to get their wording just right. And why it takes so many people to interpret them in court.
This week, the case is going to the Supreme Court of Canada (because the Appeals Court in NB wouldn’t hear it) where the ruling could effect the future of interprovincial liquor laws permanently. In court, Supreme Justices pointed out that there has already been precedent set when it comes to Section 121. In a 1921 case regarding Alberta liquor importer Gold Seal, the court ruled that setting up a provincial liquor monopoly (such as New Brunswick has) was allowed under the law. Comeau’s lawyer Ian Blue says that needs to be revisited and representatives from provinces and breweries also made cases to the court.
The provinces are concerned that if the court uphold’s Comeau’s acquittal, it will undermine the provinces’ authority over controlled substances and make for increased consumption since people will be able to import liquor from wherever is cheapest. That doesn’t sound like a great deal for the government, but Canadians would be pretty happy with that result.
— The Globe and Mail (@globeandmail) December 8, 2017
Good on him and the brewers for standing up to this archaic law. Are we a country or 13 countries in one ?
— 🐉Mr. Anderson🐉 (@jodand) December 6, 2017
INFORM YOURSELF AND SUPPRT Canada’s beer smuggler.
LAW NEEDS TO BE CHANGED AT SCC!https://t.co/OpcNncrXir
— G. G. MATUGA (@MATUGAMATUGA) December 8, 2017
The court has withheld judgement until an undetermined date.