New Brunswick

Cross-border booze limits ruling 'crystal clear,' lawyer says

A lawyer who defended cross-border beer-buyer Gérard Comeau says it's "ludicrous" for a Liberal cabinet minister to suggest the law in question is still in effect.

Judge struck down law as unconstitutional, 'no ifs, ands, or buts,' says Mikael Bernard

A lawyer who defended cross-border beer-buyer Gérard Comeau says it's "ludicrous" for a Liberal cabinet minister to suggest the law in question is still in effect.

Defence lawyer Mikael Bernard contends the judge's ruling, striking down the limitations on importing alcohol from other provinces are unconstitutional was 'crystal clear.' (Bridget Yard/CBC)
Mikael Bernard was responding to Public Safety Minister Stephen Horsman's comment that "the law is still the law" for New Brunswickers buying large amounts of liquor outside the province and bringing it home.

Last Friday, provincial court Judge Ronald LeBlanc struck down Section 134(b) of the Liquor Control Act, which bans the practice.

"You've got a judge that heard evidence during a four-day trial, and rendered an 86-page decision, and you are going to say, 'No problem, business as usual?'" asked Bernard, a lawyer in the Campbellton area.

After the ruling, Section 134(b) "has no force and effect in New Brunswick, period," Bernard said. "There are no ifs, ands, or buts. It is crystal clear."

LeBlanc said in his ruling that the section is unconstitutional because it violates a section of the 1867 Constitution, which guarantees open trade between provinces.

Crown prosecutors haven't said whether they will file an appeal. They have 30 days from the ruling to do so.

Public Safety Minister Stephen Horsman has said police would be 'enforcing the laws, as they stand today.' (Joe MacDonald)
Premier Brian Gallant has refused to comment on the substance of the ruling, including its impact on NB Liquor and on other people buying liquor outside New Brunswick.

But Horsman, who is the minister responsible for the Liquor Control Act, muddied the waters on Tuesday when he said police "are going to continue … to do their job."

While pointing out he doesn't tell police what to do, Horsman said, "The law is still the law, and they're going to continue until we look at it." He said police would be "enforcing the laws, as they stand today."

To come out and say, 'Nothing has changed?' Wow. That's ludicrous.- Mikael Bernard, lawyer

Attorney General Serge Rousselle refused on Thursday to say whether he considers the section to be in effect.

"As a law professor, I would be more than pleased to answer that question," he said. "As the attorney general, I have to say that it is not my call. It's the RCMP's call and [up to] the Crown prosecutor's office to decide that."

The RCMP said on Tuesday it was up to the province to decide if the law is in effect.

Section 134(b) can only be repealed by an act of the legislature. But Bernard said the judge's ruling clearly invalidates the section, and Horsman should know that.

'Immensely disrespectful'

"To come out and say, 'Nothing has changed?' Wow. That's ludicrous," he said. "What a misconception. I just don't get it. I just don't."

Suggesting the law is still in effect "is immensely disrespectful towards the judge," Bernard added.

Bernard says it's likely the government wants to continue protecting NB Liquor from out-of-province competition. The Crown corporation brought in more than $160 million in revenue for the government in 2014-15.

Attorney General Serge Rousselle reminded reporters on Thursday it's the prosecution office, not the government, that decides on laying charges and filing appeals. (Kate Letterick/CBC)
Instead, he said, NB Liquor should reduce taxes on its products so people won't be attracted by cheap prices in Quebec. "It's so simple," he said.

Rousselle reminded reporters on Thursday that the prosecution office operates independently from elected politicians and that it is up to that office, not the government, to decide on both laying charges and filing appeals.

Bernard said he hasn't heard what has become of two other cases in which New Brunswickers were charged for buying liquor in Quebec, but he expects the Crown to withdraw those charges.

Federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said on Tuesday the ruling was "a very positive development" and said Ottawa wants to encourage the provinces to sign a broad agreement lowering interprovincial trade barriers.

Moosehead Breweries' chief financial officer Patrick Oland said in a statement on Thursday the company "appreciates the significance of the recent court ruling and we await further clarification on inter-provincial regulations."

He said the company would welcome a reduction in "tariff and non-tariff barriers" between provinces.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

With files from Kate Letterick


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?