August 31, 2015

Booze and borders: One man's fight to overturn an unconstitutional Canadian law

Brian LilleyArchive

I don’t know Gerard Comeau, but he's my hero.

Comeau is the New Brunswick man who -- rather than pay a fine for buying beer legally in Canada and taking it home -- is fighting back against an over zealous liquor commission.

He was in court last week to say that fining him for buying beer in Quebec and then driving back to his house in New Brunswick is actually unconstitutional.

Comeau and his legal team argued that charging him for buying beer from Canada, inside Canada and then taking it to his home, still in Canada, violated section 121 of the Constitution which 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.”

That (and Section 91 of the Constitution, stating that the federal government is in charge of regulating trade and commerce) should be good enough to get Comeau off. But we know provincial governments have been trying to stop trade between the provinces since Confederation -- even though ending those trade impediments was part of the impetus for Confederation in the first place.

New Brunswick limits residents to bringing one bottle of wine or spirits, and about 18 bottles or cans of beer, back from another province.

A quick look at prices might tell you why.

Let me pick on Coors Light, probably the best selling beer in the country. In New Brunswick the government store charges $45.95 for 28 cans.

You can get 30 cans in Quebec for about $30.

In 2012, Parliament, with support from all parties, unanimously passed Bill C-311. That dropped a federal ban on taking booze between provinces; it was a repeal of a law passed during Prohibition.

But few provinces took up the challenge. Here in Ottawa, lots of people head to Quebec to get cheap beer just across the river. And lots of people from Quebec cross the short bridge to buy cheaper wine here. They could be breaking the law.

I just found out I’ve likely broken the law more than once.

Ontario limits you to a little more than three bottles of spirits, a case of wine and three cases of beer.

I’ve been asking provincial bureaucrats what the fines are. I’m still not sure.

Gerard Comeau lost his 14 cases of beer and was fined $292 for buying a legal product in Canada and taking it home.

I asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper his thoughts on this Monday at a campaign stop in Ottawa. Here's what he said:

That's why we brought in federal legislation. It does require mirror legislation at the provincial level. A couple of provinces have proceeded with similar legislation. Not all have, but obviously I would, in my campaign mode, non-partisan way, urge all provinces to adopt that legislation.

I’d be willing to bet that Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau would say the same thing.

But the question is: Will any of them force the provinces to actually stop these practices?

No Canadian should face legal sanction, not even a fine, for buying a legal product and moving it from one part of the country to another.

Comeau wasn’t opening his own beer store. Even if he was picking up a few cases for friends and neighbours -- big deal!

I could buy five beds or sofas or dishwashers in another province, more than I need for my own use and no one would bother me for bringing it home. It should be the same with booze.

It is time we had free trade inside our own borders.


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commented 2015-09-22 22:31:52 -0400
Thinking…. We’ve heard plenty of news stories about Canadians “cross border shopping” in the U.S. Stories, good, bad, or indifferent, about folk looking for better deals across a line on map. How is what you are supporting here different? We’ve heard stories about the evils of “the free trade deals” and about what Europe has become under the E.U. This is what some want the world to be like. (Dare I mention the U.N.?) How capable are we Canadians at drawing the line between fairness and slavery.? It’s a fine line we live…
commented 2015-09-03 13:19:29 -0400
Gerard Comeau has been provided with a team of lawyers (free of charge to him) thanks to the Canadian Constitution Foundation. We need your financial help to take this case to the Supreme Court. To donate, go to: You will not only be helping Gerard, you’ll also be helping yourself and your family to the lower prices that interprovincial free trade will provide in many commodities.
commented 2015-09-01 23:56:24 -0400
“Unconstitutional law” is impossible. Nothing that is “unconstitutional” is Law. This anti-free-trade, anti-liberty garbage is NOT “the law”. They’re abusing the rigged legal system, it was “legal” for the Liberals to abuse Indian kids in “schools”, but was it Lawful? That’s the key question, is there injury? I’d say, Yes there is.

Nevermind interprovincial trade of beer and liquor, recognize that the “sin tax” WILL rise, its possible that the feminist Queens Park overlords may even go prohibitionist one day, just get their cash out of ticketing People for it.

For that, I recommend you join the Alcohol Annonymous, the 12 step program for making your booze from fermentation to distillation. As it turns out, a hobbiest can produce as good or better alcohol as sold at government monopoly stores. Time to end this racket and gain alcohol security for yourself, be it in beverage form, or fuel a vehicle perhaps.
commented 2015-09-01 20:40:38 -0400
Please start a class action suit.
commented 2015-09-01 16:12:45 -0400
Any law restricting free personal commerce over provincial borders is illegitimate. This type of color-of-law protectionism only protects crony corporate clients of kleptocrat governing cabals – it’s the type of govern for hire that exists in banana republics.
commented 2015-09-01 11:43:15 -0400
I really hope he wins for all Canadians across the country… We are one nation and we have to stop this type of crap, that keeps us divided…
commented 2015-09-01 09:29:07 -0400
In Ontario, where a foreign, privately owned company enjoys a legislated monopoly in the beer store, I would think that should be challenged in court as well. For a small fee of several hundred thousand dollars per year in political contributions, and some party-connected lobbyists, this entity enjoys obscene profits at the expense of the consumer. When this ridiculous situation is discussed by our politico, issues of public revenue and craft brewers comes up, but guess who is almost never mentioned? The consumer. Also, and this is directed to the LCBO in Ontario, who exactly, gets to decide the markups on booze? I shudder to think that some public servant has this power, and meanwhile, it is never debated in the legislature. Absurd. People, wake up. Take back your democracy from the special interest groups. Start caring, for heavens sake.
commented 2015-08-31 23:09:14 -0400
George Dyer, I agree with the fact that with technology the country has grown smaller. I disagree with not having a Constitution. This paper is the only thing that stands between us and tyranny…and even then we have to fight for our rights as the elitists always want to diminish those rights. We must always remember that MAN came before the Constitution. The Constitution is a result of man’s willingness to associate to protect those rights inherent in each one of us. Those rights have always been LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY. In these three lies all others. Without these we are not. The Government is a product of the Constitution and that document is there to restrain the government and not the citizenry. BUT, the government often forgets and empowers itself beyond its limits. If there was no Constitution, any despot could rule over us…just like Hitler.
commented 2015-08-31 22:52:09 -0400
Follow the money! It’s all about the loss in tax revenue.
commented 2015-08-31 22:03:11 -0400
By rights he should get his beer back and an apology from the RCMP and the Prov. of NB.
commented 2015-08-31 20:44:35 -0400
No kidding.
commented 2015-08-31 20:15:13 -0400
Another one of life’s simple pleasures ruined by meddling bureaucrats.
But seriously, I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again,
Eliminate the designation of provinces and territories.
Employing governments for all of them is only supporting a superfluous layer of dead wood middle management. How many different healthcare systems does our country have? About thirteen maybe? I’ve lost count. Why is the life of a Canadian in one part of our country worth less or more than a Canadian in another part? Why do we have so many ministers of healthcare, or multi-culturism, or immigration, and so on? Yes, our country is so geographically large that perhaps at one time all this made sense, but that was back in the day when information travelled by horse and buggy, or even locomotive. The transmission of information has advanced a bit since then.
By all means, keep the abbreviated designation as part of our Postal Codes, I contend that that’s about all they are good for. Consider national unity. With no provinces there would be no provinces seeking separation.
I do support the rule of law as determined by our democratically elected government so long they reflect the wishes of the people and enforced by democratically elected judges, but constitutions and charters should not be sacred cows. They are nothing more to me than pieces of paper that have been scribbled on by some dead guys some of whom, when they were living, had the arrogance and temerity to believe they were so clever that they knew what was good for all subsequent generations. I’m not a proponent of one central government controlling everything, and I do like city, town and county councils. Although their meetings are typically boring I like the arithmetic of how they are elected and, supposedly without allegiance to political parties, I consider them to be the last bastions of democracy, and they usually still get the job done.
Vote A-B-C
Anything But Communism
commented 2015-08-31 19:06:38 -0400
I would go further….when are we going to privatize those communist liquor stores?