Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

New Brunswick resident Grard Comeau buying beer at a store in Listuguj, Que., on April 29, 2016, hours after a court in nearby Campbellton, N.B., ruled that his province’s liquor law is unconstitutional and dismissed a $292 fine Mr. Comeau received in 2012 for buying alcohol in Quebec.

Serge Bouchard

A retiree's decision to fight a $292 ticket he received for buying beer in Quebec has led a New Brunswick court to invalidate a section of the province's liquor act, in a case that could eventually bring sweeping changes to interprovincial trade across the country.

In a ruling released Friday in Campbellton, N.B., Provincial Court Judge Ronald LeBlanc agreed with defence arguments that the Fathers of Confederation didn't want trade barriers between provinces and that New Brunswick's monopolistic law contravened the Constitution Act of 1867.

"That historical context leads to only one conclusion: The Fathers of Confederation wanted to implement free trade as between the provinces of the newly formed Canada," Justice LeBlanc said in his 87-page ruling.

Story continues below advertisement

Arnold Schwisberg, one of the defence lawyers, said in an interview that the decision has a "national impact, not just for the transportation of liquor."

"What that means is that the Canadian supply system, whereby the interprovincial trade of commodities are restricted, the dairy boards, the wheat boards, every aspect of our Canadian commercial situation that has impediments for cross-provincial movements, are all unconstitutional."

He said he had already received a call from a lawyer in British Columbia wondering about the impact on the B.C. wine industry, which does $255-million in annual sales.

Canadian wine and beer producers have long complained of interprovincial hurdles, such as many provinces' restrictions on shipping directly from an out-of-province winery to a consumer, or the decision last December by Premier Rachel Notley's government to slap a 525-per-cent tax hike on craft beer from outside Alberta.

After Friday's decision, the Crown has 30 days to decide whether to appeal. "[The] government will review the decision, but we have no further comment at this time," said Elaine Bell, a spokeswoman for New Brunswick Attorney-General Serge Rousselle.

Mr. Schwisberg and the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation, which helped the accused, Gérard Comeau, with his defence, said they expect the case to end up at the Supreme Court.

"We had pledged from the beginning that if we got into this we'd be there the whole way," said foundation executive-director Marni Soupcoff.

Story continues below advertisement

The defendant, Mr. Comeau, had been fighting the case since 2012.

A retired line worker, he had been charged and fined after the RCMP pulled him over as he returned home with 15 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor purchased in Quebec.

"It would have been much easier for him to pay. But he wanted to fight, because he thought it was wrong," Ms. Soupcoff said.

During the trial, the defence brought out academics to testify that current laws clashed with the 1867 Constitution.

Under Sections 43 and 134(b), the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act, it is illegal for local residents to purchase more than the equivalent of 12 pints of beer from outside the province.

However, Mr. Comeau's lawyers noted that Section 121 of the Constitution Act says that "all articles of the growth, produce or manufacture of any of the provinces shall … be admitted free into each of the other provinces."

Story continues below advertisement

Going against the 1921 Gold Seal decision by the Supreme Court, Justice LeBlanc agreed with the defence that the historical context described by experts testifying at the trial indicated that Section 121 didn't just refer to being free from customs duties.

The changes between the first and second drafts of the Constitution of 1867 indicated that the Fathers of Confederation clearly thought about interprovincial commerce, the judge said.

"They anticipated expansion and they anticipated greater trade as between the provinces. … The amended wording reflects their attempt to gain unfettered economic exchange and a more comprehensive economic union," Justice LeBlanc wrote.

Since the federal government was not involved in the proceedings, Justice LeBlanc said his ruling did not address the constitutionality of the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, Prohibition-era federal law that gives provinces control over interprovincial sales and shipment of alcohol.

The trial heard it was common for New Brunswickers to buy alcohol in Quebec, where beer is nearly half as expensive.

Alcool New Brunswick Liquor, the Crown corporation responsible for alcohol sales in the province, adds a mark-up of as much as 89.8 per cent to its beer, and has annual profit of about $165-million.

Story continues below advertisement

ANBL had warned at the trial that it could go out of business if Mr. Comeau got his way.

The heavy mark-up in his home province is what prompted Mr. Comeau to take a 200-kilometre drive from his house in Tracadie to Pointe-à-la-Croix, a small Quebec municipality separated by the J.C. Van Horne bridge across the Restigouche River from the New Brunswick town of Campbellton.

After his court victory, Mr. Comeau headed across the border and bought himself $300 in beer and spirits, according to Radio-Canada journalist Serge Bouchard, who posted a photo of a smiling Mr. Comeau holding a case of Budweiser.

New Brunswick liquor ruling

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies