British Columbia

5 B.C. wineries head to Supreme Court over provincial liquor shipping laws

Five small British Columbian wineries are trying to change the legal barriers that make shipping their products to other provinces Canada more difficult than selling to the international market.

Being unable to sell to other provinces negatively impacting B.C. wine industry, says lawyer

Shea Coulson, of Coulson Litigation, will speak for 50th Parallel Estate, Liquidity Wines, Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery and Painted Rock Estate Winery. (Coulson Litigation)

Five small British Columbian wineries are trying to change the legal barriers that make shipping their products to other provinces in Canada more difficult than selling to the international market.

The Supreme Court of Canada granted the local producers, who head a coalition of more than 100 small B.C. wineries, permission to intervene in the interprovincial shipping of liquor case R. v. Comeau, it was announced earlier this week.

The case will be the first where any winery in the country has had the chance to address the barriers to shipping liquor between provinces and brings up significant questions about Canada's trade market, said the legal representative of the five B.C wineries.

"This is one of the most important cases for Canadian federalism in many years because it answers the basic question, 'To what extent is Canada a common market?'" said Shea Coulson of Coulson Litigation.

B.C. wine industry

Coulson told CBC host of The Early Edition Rick Cluff that the case is key to supporting B.C.'s wine industry.

"With success comes market saturation and that's where we are at in B.C. right now — there's too many wines available to purchase and not enough people," Coulson said.

"[Local wineries] are looking now internationally to the United States and other international markets — some ship to Japan, for example. But why should it be easier for wineries to sell into an international market than in their own domestic market?"

In 2012, a private member's bill was passed in Parliament that makes it legal for Canadians to ship or carry wine across provincial borders.

However, although the federal barriers were removed, each province still sets its own laws regarding the issue.

Currently, all provinces other than British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia prohibit the shipping of Canadian liquor and wine into the province.

The case initially arose when a New Brunswick man was fined for bringing several cases of beer and three bottles of liquor over in his car from Quebec. He argued that the Liquor Control Act is unconstitutional because it violates the spirit of free trade in Canada.

"As most things do, it comes down to money," Coulson said.

"I think that's a little bit shortsighted because we are dealing with a Canadian industry and these barriers are prohibiting this industry from growing and succeeding at a national level."  

The Supreme Court will hear the case in early December 2017.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition.

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