New Brunswick

N.B. man, lawyer who fought cross-border booze case 'ecstatic' with new deal

The New Brunswick man at the centre of the 'free-the-beer' case that went all the way to the Supreme Court is celebrating a new deal reached by the provinces to raise the personal exemption limit for cross-border booze sales.

Province agreed to raise personal exemption limit for cross-border booze sales

The provinces have agreed to increase the limit of personal exemption for cross-border booze sales. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The New Brunswick man at the centre of the "free-the-beer" case that went all the way to the Supreme Court is celebrating a new deal reached by the provinces that will raise the personal exemption limit for cross-border booze sales.

The details are still being ironed out as the Council of the Federation wraps up meetings in Saint Andrews, but the amount of liquor individuals can bring across a provincial boundary for personal use is set to at least double.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant talks with reporters before the closing news conference as the Canadian premiers meet in Saint Andrews on Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Gerard Comeau said it's a step in the right direction, with New Brunswick having among the lowest limits for bringing liquor in from another province.

"If you go buy any amount or quantity of anything else, it's not limited so this doesn't make sense," Comeau told CBC News on Friday.

"You're going to buy it where it's cheaper. … Money is tight everywhere. So people want a good deal."

The Tracadie man was stopped and fined by RCMP at the New Brunswick-Quebec border in 2012 for having 14 cases of beer, two bottles of whisky and one bottle of liqueur in his vehicle. The alcohol was confiscated.

Gerard Comeau says it's going to make prices more competitive. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

That launched a five-year legal battle, culminating in a ruling by Canada's top court in April that sided with the New Brunswick government.

The province reversed its stance on the issue three months later, as Premier Brian Gallant called for the freer flow of booze across provincial borders a week ago.

Comeau's lawyer, Mikaël Bernard, said the new deal is long overdue.

"Personally, I'm ecstatic," he said.

"Through our politicians, they finally saw what we've been seeing for the past six years (in the courts), the overwhelming support of the general public with regards to interprovincial free trade when it comes to alcohol."

He said it's definitely going to affect prices.

"I think inevitably the market is going to have to adjust itself," Bernard said. "With the new limits, it would only be logical that NB Liquor would adjust their prices accordingly, otherwise they are going to be losers in terms of sales."

'I hope it makes it more competitive'

Comeau and Bernard weren't the only ones pleased to hear the news Friday.

In Sackville, close to the Nova Scotia border, NB Liquor customers said they're hopeful for cheaper alcohol.

"I hope it makes it more competitive," said Bryce Estabrooks. "I still think we pay a lot more than if I go visit my parents down south in the States, that's for sure."

And it's not just American prices. Customers say they often take advantage of deals while travelling in Ontario and Quebec.

"When I go home to Montreal, Quebec, I do tend to get a bit of beer and wine on the way back," said Tanya Maier.

Chris McLenaghan, who is visiting from Alberta, said he noticed the higher New Brunswick prices while shopping at NB Liquor in Sackville on Friday. (CBC)

Chris McLenaghan, who's visiting from Alberta, noticed the difference right away.

"Going into the liquor store here, our first day in New Brunswick, and we noticed the prices compared to Alberta are higher," he said.

Premier Gallant said the exact amount of alcohol that people will be allowed to carry across provincial borders will be worked out in the near future.

"But there is a clear willingness to have a significant increase when it comes to what Canadians are able to import."

With files from Maeve McFadden