Booze border limit challenge could be 'revolutionary,' judge says

If a northern New Brunswick lawyer succeeds in challenging the cross-border liquor limits as unconstitutional, the case will be "revolutionary," says the trial judge.

New Brunswick lawyer Mikael Bernard will argue the law is outdated and unconstitutional

The trial of a New Brunswick man charged with exceeding his cross-border alcohol limit has been adjourned until December.

But if his lawyer succeeds in challenging the limit as unconstitutional, the case will be "revolutionary," said Campbellton provincial court Judge Steven Hutchison. 

Mikael Bernard, a lawyer from Balmoral, argues the Liquor Control Act, which sets limits on importing alcohol, has been superceded by the Constitution. (CBC)
He made the comment on the bench on Tuesday morning, when Gerard Comeau, of the Tracadie area, was due to stand trial on a charge of illegally importing alcohol from Quebec nearly two years ago.

But the judge said the documents were not in order and rescheduled the matter to Dec. 1 at 1:30 p.m.

"The defence asked for an adjournment pursuant to the instructions given by the court," defence lawyer Mikael Bernard told reporters outside the courtroom.

"We need to gather more evidence that we're going to need to present in [the] form of expert [witnesses] — and currently we don't have that evidence," said Bernard, who is based in Balmoral.

Bernard is representing Comeau and two other people who are facing the same charge for free, arguing the law is outdated and has been superceded by the Constitution.

Under the provincial Liquor Control Act, the maximum amount of alcohol that can be legally imported into New Brunswick from another province is one bottle of wine or spirits, or 12 pints of beer, which is about 18 bottles or cans.

Offenders are subject to an automatic fine of $292.50 and their liquor is seized and destroyed.

Many Campbellton residents cross the bridge to Point-a-la-Croix, Quebec, to buy cheaper alcohol. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
Bernard has said the last court decision on point dates back to 1928, during the prohibition period.

He has also said it does not make sense that the rules are more stringent for people returning with beer from other Canadian provinces than the United States.

Bernard says it's too expensive to bring in constitutional experts from Toronto, who could help him argue the case.

But they could still contribute to his defence, which will be outlined when the case resumes on Dec. 1, he said.

Two days have been set aside for Comeau's trial.

Comeau was carrying between 10 and 15 cases of beer when he was stopped at the border by Campbellton RCMP in October 2012, the courtroom heard.

He was one of 17 people charged over a two weekend-period. Nearly 5,000 bottles and cans of beer were seized, police had said at the time. The smallest seizure was 144 beers, while the largest was more than 1,000.

Comeau is one of four people fighting the charges against them.

The other three cases hinge on his verdict, said Bernard.

"We made an understanding with the Crown that whatever result we obtain from the court, either for or against defence in our submissions, that the other cases would follow," he said.

"In other words, there's either going to be changes of pleas, or I'm assuming the Crown would withdraw the charges completely."

Bernard is also representing Reggie Brideau, of Tracadie, and Charlene Mullaley, of Lorne, while James Messer, of New Zion, is being represented by Paul Hayes in English.

Many Campbellton-area residents travel to Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que., which is about a kilometre away, to buy cheaper booze. In some cases, it's almost half the price.


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