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January 2018
by Peter Mitham

Ottawa, Ontario—Canada’s interprovincial trade laws went to the country’s Supreme Court last month for a hearing vintners hope will finally get wine flowing between provinces without interference from the country’s 13 provincial and territorial liquor boards.

“The moment for this case has arisen,” said Shea Coulson, a lawyer representing five British Columbia wineries that together received intervener status in the hearing that took place Dec. 6-7 in Ottawa.

Coulson’s five winery clients (50th Parallel, Liquidity Wines, Noble Ridge Vineyard, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery and Painted Rock Estate Winery) are among 23 organizations granted intervener status in the two-day hearing. They represent the ad hoc Coalition of Small B.C. Wineries, a gathering of more than 100 British Columbia wineries seeking changes to interprovincial shipping laws.

The hearing is the culmination of years of efforts by the wine industry to free the grapes (as one rallying cry put it), but the case is actually built on beer: A 2012 trip by New Brunswick resident Gérard Comeau to stock up on cheap Quebec beer ended with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pulling him over and ticketing him under New Brunswick’s liquor laws for transporting 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor. New Brunswick only allows residents to bring 12 pints of beer or a bottle of wine or spirits into the province, with infractions drawing a minimum fine of $240. The case became a national cause célèbre when Comeau argued his $292.50 ticket was unconstitutional. Canada’s founding document, the Constitution Act of 1867, 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.”

“There’s never been a test case on this section of the constitution before,” Coulson said. “There have been attempts, but provincial governments have generally elected not to charge individuals.”

Senators “recommended that the provincial governments and the federal government work together to remove (trade) boundaries,” Coulson said.

The recommendation followed the federal government’s passage of Bill C-311 in June 2012, which made it legal (in the eyes of the federal government) to transport wine between provinces. 

Canada’s provinces and territories want to maintain control over liquor sales, given the lucrative stream of tax income these provide. If the court allows wine to flow between provinces, the supply-managed sectors feel the stable framework that regulates milk, egg and poultry production in each province could be at risk. 

Christine Coletta of Okanagan Crush Pad traveled to Ottawa for the hearing and said recent polls indicate the public is on board with a more liberal shipping regime, though the risk of retribution from the tight-knit government liquor monopolies means few wineries will risk shipping direct to consumers in provinces that haven’t explicitly allowed it to date (those include British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia).

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