Fourteen cases of beer and three bottles of liquor that a certain Gérard Comeau of Tracadie-Sheila, N.B., brought from Quebec to New Brunswick in 2012, are once again in contention. The Public Prosecution Services of New Brunswick are now seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on this issue. They are right to do so.
Mr. Comeau bought beer in Quebec at about half the price he would have paid in his own province. But the Liquor Control Act of N.B. says it's an offence to possess more than 12 pints of beer that haven't been bought in a New Brunswick liquor store.
The RCMP had been waiting for Mr. Comeau and his beer, and they charged him. But there were wheels within wheels that the police hadn't considered.
Provincial court judges don't often alter the prevailing practice under the Constitution Act, 1867, but Justice Ronald LeBlanc did. He read Section 121: "All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall be admitted free into each of the other Provinces." In other words, there should be no customs duties on goods moving in and out of the provinces of Canada. Mr. Comeau won.
It was a victory for internal free-traders. Canadian governments have worked on provincial trade treaties for a quarter-century or so, but they never quite achieve the same level of access across provincial borders that Ottawa has achieved for its national border.
The New Brunswick government appealed, but the provincial Court of Appeal said it didn't see any reason to review Justice LeBlanc's decision. Last Wednesday, however, the Public Prosecution Services of New Brunswick announced its leave-to-appeal application to the Supreme Court, adding that the implications of the Comeau case are "far greater" than beer and liquor.
It remains a mystery whether the PPS favours internal free trade in Canada or not. But it is right to say that the "national significance of the issues involved" calls for clarification at the highest level. The issue of the free movement of goods and people across provincial borders has dogged the Canadian economy for too long.
The leave-to-appeal application feels like a public-spirited move. With any luck, the Supreme Court will rule in favour of internal free trade and put an overdue issue to rest.