New Brunswick's limit on importing beer challenged

A northern New Brunswick lawyer is offering to take on cases for people who have been charged and had their alcohol seized by the RCMP after crossing back into the province from Quebec.

Lawyer is representing clients for free in fight over Liquor Control Act rules

A northern New Brunswick lawyer is challenging New Brunswick's liquor rules that restrict how much alcohol citizens can bring back from other provinces.

In October, the RCMP in Campbellton set up road blocks and charged 17 people with illegally importing beer from Quebec.

In two weekends, the RCMP seized about 5,000 bottles or cans of beer. Those caught had between six and 45 cases of beer with them. The alcohol was seized and the offenders were handed a $292.50 fine.

New Brunswick prohibits people bringing in more than one bottle of wine or hard liquor or 12 pints of beer, approximately 24 bottles or cans, from another province.

Mikael Bernard, a lawyer from Balmoral, said people in northern New Brunswick routinely travel into Quebec to purchase alcohol, which is often half the price of buying it from NB Liquor.

New Brunswick's Liquor Control Act

Section 43: A person who is not prohibited by law from having or consuming liquor may have and consume in a residence or in a roomette, duplex roomette, compartment, bedroom or drawing room occupied by him in a train, but not in a public place except when authorized under a permit,

(a) any liquor that has lawfully been acquired by him under this Act from the Corporation,

(b) liquor not in excess of one bottle or beer not in excess of twelve pints purchased outside Canada by him or by the person from whom he received it as a bona fide gift, or

(c) liquor not in excess of one bottle or beer not in excess of twelve pints purchased outside New Brunswick from a liquor commission, board or similar body in any province or territory of Canada by such person or by a person from whom he received it as a bona fide gift.

Bernard said he is willing to represent, for free, anybody who has been charged with exceeding the maximum amount of alcohol.

He is already representing one man who was charged with bringing in more alcohol than legally allowed. That client has a court date set for June.

The province's Liquor Control Act, which sets out the rules on importing alcohol, is more than 60 years old and Bernard said that law has been superseded by the constitution.

The northern lawyer said it does not make sense how the rules are more stringent for people returning with beer from other Canadian provinces than the United States.

"I've purchased liquor in the United States and I've declared it at the border and duty free no problem. I didn't have to show even a receipt," he said.

"So, to me, then as a New Brunswicker, I can't even go to my next door neighbour within my same country, to Quebec, and buy, say, 48 beers."

NB Liquor has attempted to tackle the issue of people leaving New Brunswick in search of cheap alcohol in the past.

The Crown corporation attempted to brew its own discount beer in 2009. But the Selection Lager experiment lasted only a year as sales slumped for the government-brewed beer.

During that promotion, Selection brands accounted for roughly one per cent of NB Liquor’s beer sales.

NB Liquor tried a different strategy in 2012. The Crown-owned liquor corporation introduced six discount brands last spring that sold for $18.49 a case, which is $5 cheaper than regular beer.

That plan worked so well the corporation announced in October it was adding a seventh discount beer to the list and extending the promotion for five more months.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is also reviewing its liquor rules.

The Department of Public Safety held a public consultation tour in the summer, asking the public for ideas on updating the Liquor Control Act, which was put in place in 1961.

Public Safety Minister Robert Trevors said in a statement when he announced a consultation tour that he wanted to remove barriers for the industry. The public safety minister said he wanted better rules regarding enforcement and to promote responsible alcohol consumption.

Some Fredericton bar owners urged the New Brunswick government to extend last call as a way to ease the crowd control problems experienced in the city’s downtown.