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

Richter drops out of Langley Township mayoral race

The longtime councillor said she will run again for the council seat she’s held since the late 1990s.

Langley teacher who screamed at, grabbed elementary students suspended

This is the second four-month suspension for the Langley teacher.

Langley Thunder player named WLA Rookie of the Year

Tyler Pace had a great year in his first full season for the Thunder.

Odd Thoughts: Sharing making everything right

Langley resident Bob Groeneveld on having a cuppa is about more than just enjoying a hot drink.

Langley What’s On: Aug. 16, 2018 edition

Submit Langley events: LangleyAdvance.com/add-event or news@langleyadvance.com (subject: What’s On).

‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin has died

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn reports Franklin passed Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit

Longtime pals release game backed by Kickstarter campaign

Zebulon: Galactic Control created by Lower Mainland pair

Missing B.C. hiker, dog found safe after 3-day search

Cranbrook hiker had been missing since Sunday, August 12, near Jumbo Pass.

UPDATED: B.C. RCMP dismantle Kinder Morgan protest camp

RCMP say they will enforce a court injunction today and remove Trans Mountain pipeline protesters who have been camped outside a Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby.

5 to start your day

RCMP evict Kinder Morgan protest camp, two girls go on a nighttime bus adventure and more

Italy says death toll will mount in Genoa bridge collapse

Authorities worried about the stability of remaining large sections of a partially collapsed bridge evacuated about 630 people from nearby apartments.

Former CIA Director: Trump worked with Russians and now he’s desperate

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, John Brennan cites press reports and Trump’s own goading of Russia during the campaign to find Democrat Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.

Church sex scandal: Abuse victims want a full reckoning

Since the crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, dioceses around the country have dealt with similar revelations of widespread sexual abuse.

Baloney Meter: is flow of asylum seekers at Canada-U.S. border a ‘crisis’?

“I think any time you have a government that allows 30,000 people over the course of a short period of time to come into Canada illegally, the impact that that has, that is a crisis,” said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

Most Read