Border Beers: More than just a Beer?


In the previous Border Beers post a summation of the facts in R v Comeau were described as well as some of the issues surrounding the law Mr. Comeau has been accused of breaking. For those who did not read the previous post, R v Comeau is a case about, as the title suggests, transporting beer across borders. Mr. Comeau was charged with purchasing beer in Quebec and bringing it back to his home in New Brunswick. Beer is considerably cheaper in Quebec than New Brunswick, so cross border alcohol purchases are quite common.

This becomes a problem, however, because the Province of New Brunswick maintains a monopoly on alcohol sales throughout the province. This is done through a Crown Corporation, or what is known as the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation. Profits from the corporation are used to fund provincial projects, and the money generated is a significant source of government revenue. For this reason, the provincial government has an interest in enforcing its monopoly.

Although one man bringing back a few cases of beer from another province may seem arbitrary, where is the line drawn? If someone brings back 15 cases of beer, why can’t someone else bring back 1,500? When asked what would happen to the corporation if restrictions were lifted on such conduct, a senior member of NB Liquor stated it would be devastating. NB liquor, which brings in millions of dollars in revenue a year, uses profits to support social programs within the province. Without this cash flow there could potentially be serious government revenue shortfalls.  Perhaps one man bringing beer into New Brunswick is a much bigger deal than some let on.

Provincial revenues are without question extremely important to society. On the other hand, so are constitutional freedoms. According to section 121 of the 1867 Constitution, products from one province should “be admitted free into each of the other provinces” This means people should have the right to purchase something in one province, and bring it into another province, so long as it is not an illegal substance. However, in 1920 the Supreme Court heard a case called Gold Seal LTD v Dominion Express Co., which somewhat contradicted this. The court interpreted section 121 to mean that provinces couldn’t impose customs barriers at their border. It did still allow for quotas to be put on goods travelling from one province to another, which is what Mr. Comeau was in breach of. The question is, will the Supreme Court of Canada uphold the decision in Gold Seal LTD v Dominion Express Co., or will they agree with the decision of the Provincial Court. Only time will tell. While you’re waiting, why not have a beer?

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PPSC.

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