The decision on Friday by a New Brunswick judge to dismiss charges against a man who bought beer in Quebec and drove it back to his home in Tracadie-Sheila, N.B., could prove to be the beginning of the end of provincial trade barriers that hurt consumers and hamstring the country's makers of beer, wine and liquor. And to that we say, Cheers!
In 2013, Gérard Comeau was caught in what is likely the lamest sting operation in Canadian police history. Mr. Comeau drove into Quebec, bought 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor, and headed home. The Mounties were waiting in ambush. They pulled him over, along with 17 other drivers, and fined him $292.50 under a clause in the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act that obliges New Brunswick residents to buy all their booze, with minor exceptions set out in regulations, from the provincial Liquor Corporation.
They picked the wrong beer-lover to mess with. Mr. Comeau went to court and challenged the law on the basis of Section 121 of the Constitution: "All articles of the growth, produce or manufacture of any of the provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other provinces."
The judge said Friday that the wording of Section 121 is clear, and that the provincial law violates its intention. The Fathers of Confederation wanted Canada to be one economic union, a mari usque ad mare. That's why they wrote the clause.
This is a critical ruling for Canada. The debate over the intention of Section 121 has gone on for decades. An accepted interpretation, up until Friday, was that the word "free" only referred to the application of duties on products moving across provincial borders, and wasn't intended to imply the free movement of goods.
That interpretation led to the federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which severely restricts the ability of individuals and companies to transport booze across provincial borders.
A New Brunswick provincial court has now rejected that view, and about time. Mr. Comeau was asked how he felt after his court victory. "I'm thirsty," he said. So are we – to see this ruling become a precedent for tearing down more interprovincial trade barriers.