Today, the New Brunswick Provincial Court decided that section 134 of the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act imposes an illegal barrier to interprovincial trade contrary to section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867. This was a victory for New Brunswick resident Gerard Comeau who had been caught in a police sting and charged back in 2012 for driving to Quebec to buy some beer, then driving back into New Brunswick to bring the alcohol home. Mr. Comeau initiated a constitutional challenge of the New Brunswick law and went to trial in Campbellton in August 2015, represented pro bono by lawyers Ian Blue, Arnold Schwisberg, and Mikael Bernard, and supported by the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF).
Following the decision, CCF Executive Director Marni Soupcoff issued the following statement:
“We are delighted that the New Brunswick Provincial Court has struck down the province’s limit on importing alcohol from another province, and delighted that Gerard Comeau will not have to pay a fine for having driven his legally purchased beer from Quebec to New Brunswick. It was a shocking case, but now justice has been served. The law had made it more difficult to import liquor into New Brunswick from another Canadian province than from another country. It was a clear violation of our constitutional guarantee of free interprovincial trade.
“New Brunswick’s excuse for legally forcing its residents to shop at its government liquor stores with inflated prices was that it needed the money. Wanting to fleece the people who live in your province is not a good enough reason to violate the Constitution. It shouldn’t have come to this. New Brunswick should have dropped the charges against Mr. Comeau and brought its laws into the 21st century voluntarily.
“It would not have been the end of the world for Mr. Comeau to have paid a fine, but if he had done so, the unfair barriers every Canadian faces in trying to freely purchase beer, wine and spirits from other parts of the country would have been perpetuated. This case illustrates that sometimes you have to stand up for your rights over a little thing to make a big change.”
CCF staff lawyer Derek From added:
“New Brunswick’s law helped the government monopoly sales agencies, but it hurt everyone else, including private businesses and citizens. This case shows that prohibition-era policies have no place in 2016. Economic liberty and consumer choice won out today. The victory was long overdue.”