Never come between a Canadian and his beer. That's a simple truth a rueful province of New Brunswick might one day regret having ignored.
In 2012, Gerard Comeau of Tracadie-Sheila drove across Chaleur Bay to Quebec and loaded up his vehicle with 14 cases of beer. He turned around and headed back to New Brunswick, where he was immediately pulled over by the RCMP.
It was a sting. The Mounties seized Mr. Comeau's beer and fined him $292.50 under a provincial law that prohibits individuals from bringing large quantities of out-of-province alcohol across the New Brunswick border. Seventeen other people were busted that day. Mr. Comeau has fought back, however, on constitutional grounds. His trial started in Campbellton, N.B., on Tuesday.
It's a terrific case. If the judge agrees with Mr. Comeau's lawyers, the ruling could bring an end to the ridiculous provincial trade barriers faced by Canadian manufacturers of beer, wine and liquor. It would also give consumers relief from the price-gouging of those governments with provincial liquor monopolies.
Mr. Comeau's lawyers will argue that Section 121 of the Constitution – "All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall … be admitted free into each of the other Provinces" – guarantees Canadians' right to bring beer from Quebec into New Brunswick, or send wine from a British Columbia vineyard to someone in Ontario, and so on, without limits.
They believe that the federal law that restricts the cross-border sales of booze, and the provincial laws that stem from it, violate that right.
Given the stakes, this is a case guaranteed to wind up at the Supreme Court. A senior official with the New Brunswick Liquor Corp. testified Tuesday that allowing the direct sale of alcohol to consumers by producers would put his provincial monopoly out of business. He implied that would be a problem.
Provincial booze monopolies are unfair and unnecessary. They have no economic or social justification; they exist either as an opaque way of raising government revenues, or to serve the financial self-interest of those favoured with the right to operate them, such as The Beer Store in Ontario. New Brunswick tried to take enforcement of its monopoly to an absurd level. By doing so, it may bring about the end of the scam across the entire country.