Beer is on display inside a store in Drummondville, Que., on Thursday, July 23, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Supreme Court upholds law in cross-border booze case

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Section 121 does not impose absolute free trade across Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed the constitutionality of a New Brunswick law that ensnared a man who brought home a trunkload of beer and liquor from neighbouring Quebec.

The unanimous high court decision Thursday effectively preserves the current trade regime, saying provinces have the power to enact laws that restrict commerce if there is another overriding purpose — in this case the desire to control the supply of alcohol within New Brunswick.

In October 2012, Gerard Comeau of Tracadie, N.B., drove across the border to Quebec to buy several cases of beer and some liquor from three stores.

Comeau was fined $240 and administrative fees under New Brunswick’s Liquor Control Act for being in possession of a large amount of alcohol he had not purchased through his province’s liquor corporation.

The trial judge accepted Comeau’s argument the Liquor Control Act provision amounted to a trade barrier that violated Section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

RELATED: B.C. wine industry rallying for a fight

The Constitution Act section says, “All articles of the growth, produce, or manufacture of any one of the provinces shall, from and after the union, be admitted free into each of the other provinces.”

The New Brunswick attorney general was denied leave to challenge the trial judge’s decision in the provincial Court of Appeal, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, ultimately siding with the province.

Comeau, a 64-year-old retired power linesman, said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the decision.

“I’m not really disappointed,” he said in Campbellton, N.B. “I’m not really sad. I got an answer to what the law is.”

Comeau said he’s unlikely to continue buying beer in Quebec. “If it’s against the law, it’s against the law.”

For Comeau, the case was simply about his right to stock up on cheaper suds. But for provinces and territories, business interests and economists, it was about whether the correct interpretation of the Constitution entailed full economic integration, potentially reshaping the federation.

In its reasons, the Supreme Court said New Brunswick’s ability to exercise oversight over liquor supplies in the province “would be undermined if non-corporation liquor could flow freely across borders and out of the garages of bootleggers and home brewers.”

The framers of the Constitution agreed that individual provinces needed to relinquish their tariff powers, the court said. In this vein, the historical context supports the view that Section 121 forbids imposition of tariffs — and tariff-like measures — that impose charges on goods crossing provincial boundaries.

However, the historical evidence nowhere suggests that provinces would lose their power to legislate for the benefit of their constituents, even if that might affect interprovincial trade.

“Section 121 does not impose absolute free trade across Canada,” the decision says.

Rather, the historical and legislative context — and underlying constitutional principles — support a flexible view, “one that respects an appropriate balance between federal and provincial powers and allows legislatures room to achieve policy objectives that may have the incidental effect of burdening the passage of goods across provincial boundaries.”

The B.C. Wine Institute and its members said unfair interprovincial trade barriers have impeded Canada’s wine industry growth and prevented consumers from purchasing the Canadian wines of their choice.

RELATED: Supreme Court of Canada ruling a “missed opportunity” for B.C. wineries

Just Posted

Port Alberni RCMP recover stolen tool chest

Police still searching for the rightful owner

Kuu-us Crisis Service celebrates 25th anniversary

Port Alberni-based business sets sights on national realm

Vehicle fire extinguished near Cathedral Grove

Fire shut down Highway 4 in both directions

McLean Mill’s steam engine done for the season

McLean Mill Society to consult with community about future of steam

Great Central Lake resort owners jump in to fight nearby wildfire

Marleys put repurposed firetruck to good use during B.C. Day fire

Average Canadian family spends 43% of income on taxes: study

Fraser Institute’s consumer report shows taxes accounting for larger chunk of income each year

RCMP to search for body after man drowns in B.C.’s Buntzen Lake

Officers and fire crews responded but the man from the Lower Mainland is believed to have drowned.

Police chiefs call for stricter controls on pill presses to fight opioids

Canada’s police chiefs are urging Ottawa to beef up its fight against the opioid scourge by closely vetting people who import pill presses

Victoria police say explicit calls continue to target women

Over 50 reports of unwanted, sexually explicit calls have come in

Four-hour ferry delay on Buckley Bay-Denman Island route

BC Ferries reported the cable ferry is experiencing issues with the head shieve.

‘It’s like a party in your mouth’

B.C. creator’s Milkshake Burger makes its debut at the PNE

Vehicle catches fire near Vancouver Island provincial park

Fire shut down Highway 4 in both directions

Most Read