Supreme Court of Canada upholds limiting liquor movements across a provincial border

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      A New Brunswick man who made a beer run across the border to Quebec has failed in his six-year quest to liberate the interprovincial trade in alcohol.

      In 2012, Gerard Comeau was charged and fined $292.50 after being caught with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor. He bought the booze at three stores in Quebec and brought them into New Brunswick.

      Beer prices are lower in Quebec than in New Brunswick, which restricts the amount of alcohol that can be brought into the province.

      Comeau launched a court challenge against his conviction. He won his first battle when the trial judge ruled that New Brunswick's liquor restriction was unconstitutional. The New Brunswick Court of Appeal refused to grant leave to appeal.

      However, this morning the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the trial judge's ruling.

      Canada's highest court upheld a provision in New Brunswick's Liquor Control Act restricting the amount of alcohol a resident could bring across the border.

      "The objective of the New Brunswick regulatory scheme is not to restrict trade across a provincial boundary, but to enable public supervision of the production, movement, sale, and use of alcohol within New Brunswick," the court declared in its decision.

      This case could have ramifications on the future movement of alcohol and cannabis across provincial borders.

      The Supreme Court of Canada ruling noted that the primary purpose of section 134 (b) of New Brunswick's Liquor Control Act "is to prohibit holding excessive quantities of liquor from supplies not managed by the province".

      The case revolved around the interpretation of section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

      It states: "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."

      According to the Supreme Court of Canada, the trial judge erroneously relied on an historian's evidence about the intentions of those who drafted section 121.

      "The text of the provision must be read harmoniously with the context and purpose of the statute," the Supreme Court of Canada ruled. "Constitutional texts must be interpreted in a broad and purposive manner and in a manner that is sensitive to evolving circumstances.

      "Applying this framework to s. 121, the text, historical context, legislative context, and underlying constitutional principles do not support the contention that s. 121 should be interpreted as prohibiting any and all burdens on the passage of goods over provincial boundaries, essentially imposing an absolute free trade regime within Canada," the ruling continued. "Rather, these considerations support a flexible, purposive view of s. 121— one that respects an appropriate balance between federal and provincial powers."

      The Supreme Court of Canada stated that two things are required for section 121 to be violated. 

      "The law must impact the interprovincial movement of goods like a tariff, which, in the extreme, could be an outright prohibition," it stated. "And, restriction of cross-border trade must be the primary purpose of the law, thereby excluding laws enacted for other purposes, such as laws that form rational parts of broader legislative schemes with purposes unrelated to impeding interprovincial trade."

      In essence, the court ruled there are other purposes for restricting the movement of alcohol. Hence, that means New Brunswick didn't violate the law by curbing the importation of alcohol from other provinces.

      There was a long list of interveners in the case, including the B.C. government, Cannabis Culture, several wine producers (Liquidity Wines Ltd. Painted Rock Estate Winery Ltd., 50th Parallel Estate Limited partnership, and Okanagan Crush Pad Winery Ltd.), and organizations representing brewers, dairy farmers, egg farmers, chicken farmers, turkey farmers, and beer producers. 

       

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