New Brunswick

N.B.'s Public Prosecutions office says cross-border liquor law still in effect

New Brunswick’s Public Prosecutions Service says a law restricting out-of-province shopping for beer and liquor is “in theory” still in effect, despite a recent court ruling in the case of a Tracadie man.

Says court decision only applied to Gérard Comeau, not everyone in province

A statement from the head of public prosecutions, Luc Labonté was issued Friday, saying 'the effect of last week's ruling is limited in theory to Gérard Comeau.' (marathonmouth)

New Brunswick's Public Prosecutions Service says a law restricting out-of-province shopping for beer and liquor is "in theory" still in effect, despite a recent court ruling in the case of a Tracadie man.

In a written statement issued on Friday, the head of public prosecutions, Luc Labonté, says last week's decision acquitting Gérard Comeau does not create a legal free-for-all for New Brunswickers who buy large amounts of booze in another province and bring it home.

"It is important to note that the effect of the trial decision is limited in theory to Gérard Comeau," Labonté said. "The provincial court does not have the jurisdiction to strike down a law in a general way as it applies to all citizens."

Public Safety Minister Stephen Horsman said 'the law is still the law' when it came to bringing liquor into the province from other jurisdictions. (Joe MacDonald)
That seems to back up Public Safety Minister Stephen Horsman, who said Tuesday "the law is still the law."

Horsman was responding to questions from reporters about whether police should charge New Brunswickers bringing back large amounts of alcohol from Quebec.

Last Friday's ruling by provincial court Judge Ronald LeBlanc said Section 134(b) of the Liquor Control Act, which restricts that practice, violates the 1867 Constitution. It guarantees open trade between the provinces.

Comeau was fined $292.50 in 2012 for bringing 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor into the province from Quebec. LeBlanc's ruling said Section 134(b) was "of no force or effect as against Gérard Comeau."

The Public Prosecutions Service, part of the attorney general's office, operates independently from the rest of the provincial government.

Labonté's statement says even if the law is still in effect, the office "will carefully exercise its discretion to ensure the public interest is well served" if police bring cases like Comeau's to Crown prosecutors.

Defence lawyer Mikael Bernard said it was 'ludicrous' to suggest the law was still in effect. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
Comeau's lawyer, Mikael Bertrand, said Thursday it was "ludicrous" to suggest the law was still in effect. "What a misconception," he said.

A University of Moncton law professor also said this week that it would be illogical for Section 134(b) to be struck down for Comeau but apply to everyone else in New Brunswick.

Court decision being reviewed

The Comeau ruling is currently being reviewed, according to the statement issued on Friday. "Some legal errors may be present in this decision and appellate review may be necessary," it states.

It emphasizes that "is not a decision being made by the government and/or NB Liquor."

"Any and all decisions made by Public Prosecution Services are made independently and free from any third-party interference," the statement said.

"Decisions to prosecute, to continue prosecutions, or to appeal decisions are based solely on evidence, the law, precedents and the public interest."

Earlier this week, Premier Brian Gallant said he favours open trade between provinces, but would not comment on the substance of the ruling.

An opposition Conservative MP in Ottawa, Dan Albas, has asked the federal government to send the Comeau ruling straight to the Supreme Court of Canada for a reference ruling on whether Section 134(b) is constitutional.

Federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said 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.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.