The Supreme Court of Canada (SCOC) unanimously ruled on Thursday that a law preventing residents of New Brunswick from stocking up on alcohol from other provinces is constitutional.
The case started in 2012 when Gerard Comeau was stopped by the RCMP at the New Brunswick-Quebec border with large amounts of beer and some spirits he bought in Quebec. He was fined nearly $300.
But instead of paying, he fought it from a court in New Brunswick all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Comeau argued Section 121 of the Constitution meant it is his right as a Canadian citizen to go shop wherever he wants within the country.
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The Crown disagreed, arguing Section 121 was only meant to prevent provinces from charging tariffs at the border. The Crown then appealed the decision to the SCOC, asking the top court to rule that the provincial Liquor Control Act does not violate the Constitution Act.
On Thursday, the SCOC agreed.
The top court ruled that Section 121 prohibits laws that are mainly meant to prevent the movement of goods across provincial borders. The main purpose of the law Comeau challenged was to manage supply and demand of liquor in New Brunswick — therefore the law is constitutional.
The SCOC said provinces have the flexibility to make laws to address particular conditions within their borders.
“They can do this even if those laws may incidentally restrict the movement of goods across their borders,” the SCOC stated in the ruling.
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“Section 121 does not impose absolute free trade across Canada,” the SCOC ruling said. “We further conclude that section 121 prohibits governments from levying tariffs or tariff-like measures (measures that in essence and purpose burden the passage of goods across a provincial border); but, s. 121 does not prohibit governments from adopting laws and regulatory schemes directed to other goals that have incidental effects on the passage of goods across provincial borders.”
— With files from Global News’ Byran Mullan
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