Cross-border alcohol limits appeal expected to attract industry interveners
N.B. prosecutors appeal to Supreme Court after acquittal of man who exceeded personal importation limits
The head of the conservative legal think-tank supporting the legal fight of a New Brunswick man whose cross-border alcohol limits case is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada expects several national and regional industries will seek to intervene.
"We're confident there's going to be a strong group of interveners on [Gerard] Comeau's side, who will be highlighting the huge potential benefits to the Canadian economy of more open free trade within Canada," said Howard Anglin, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.
Comeau, a retired NB Power lineman from Tracadie, was charged in 2012 and fined $292.50 after RCMP stopped him driving home from Quebec with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor in his vehicle.
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New Brunswick's Liquor Control Act sets a personal importation limit of 12 pints of beer or one bottle of liquor or wine.
But Campbellton provincial court Judge Ronald LeBlanc ruled last year that the liquor restriction was unconstitutional because Section 121 of the 1867 Constitution Act says products from any province "shall … be admitted free into each of the other provinces."
New Brunswick prosecutors are appealing LeBlanc's decision to the country's highest court. They contend upholding Comeau's acquittal would "propose an end to Canadian federalism as it was originally conceived, has politically evolved and is judicially confirmed."
Interprovincial restrictions 'onerous'
Anglin disagrees and contends many producers and consumers do as well.
"There's a lot of players who feel the burdens of having to comply with all sorts of onerous interprovincial trade restrictions," he said. "We think that they will come out and make it clear to the court that this would be a huge boon for them as industries and for the Canadian economy overall.
Previous studies have indicated interprovincial trade barriers cost the Canadian economy between $50 billion and $130 billion every year, said Anglin.
International free trade is subject to the whims of other countries, but the one thing we can control is free trade within Canada.- Howard Anglin, Canadian Constitution Foundation
"So opening up our economy, getting the benefit of the free flow of goods, which was actually envisioned by the fathers of Confederation 150 years ago … would actually be one of the biggest economic shots in the arm our country has seen at least since NAFTA, maybe before," he said.
Anglin noted the irony that representatives of the federal government and many provinces are currently trying to convince U.S. President Donald Trump's administration that free trade has benefited both countries.
"It seems the logic of that position evaporates as soon as they come back across the Canadian border and start protecting their parochial provincial interests again," he said.
"So we're optimistic the Supreme Court will see the logic and wisdom, not only of the constitutional provision itself and what it was intended to do … but the continued relevance of that provision in the era where international free trade is subject to the whims of other countries, but the one thing we can control is free trade within Canada."
The attorneys general of Canada, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Northwest Territories, and the minister of justice of Nunavut have already filed to be interveners in the case.
The deadline to file notice of intervention is Sept. 15. The appeal is scheduled to be heard on Dec. 6 and 7.
The public prosecution service had initially asked the New Brunswick Court of Appeal to review LeBlanc's decision, but the request was denied.
Prosecutors then successfully sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.