OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a Crown appeal of a New Brunswick ruling overturning a ban on bringing alcohol across provincial boundaries, in a case that could change the nature of Canadian federalism.
A provincial court judge last year threw out all charges against a man who was ticketed for importing 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from a Quebec border town.
In an 88-page decision, Judge Ronald LeBlanc said the original framers of the Constitution never intended that laws should blatantly block the free flow of goods within their new country.
The New Brunswick Liquor Control Act prohibits anyone in the province from having more than 12 pints of beer not purchased through a liquor store in the province, a prohibition the judge called unconstitutional.
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal declined to hear the Crown’s appeal.
As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons Thursday for its decision to hear the case.
Retiree Gerard Comeau, who was fined $292.50 in 2012, has won the support of the Canadian Constitution Foundation in his fight.
Comeau’s Ontario lawyer, Arnold Schwisberg, said the ruling could have the power to shift a host of laws across the country governing everything from selling chickens to how engineers and other professionals work across provincial lines.
Howard Anglin, the constitution foundation’s executive director, said in a statement that real free trade among provinces would be a massive economic boon to the country. At the very least, the foundation says, a favourable ruling would throw open Canada’s closed provincial alcohol monopolies and could spell the end of provincial agricultural cartels.
The New Brunswick government argues the case has upended decades of legal thinking and strikes at the heart of Canadian federalism.
The original ruling, and a refusal by the province’s Appeal Court to review the decision, could hamper government control over interprovincial trade and create nationwide confusion around the extent of provincial authority, New Brunswick says.
“The combined effect of these two decisions calls into question several judgments of this court beginning in 1921 as well as 150 years of constitutional compromise,” the government says in its memorandum of argument to the Supreme Court of Canada. “This is a decision of polarizing national interest.”
An analysis last year by Malcolm Lavoie of the University of Alberta’s law faculty hinted at just how far-reaching LeBlanc’s decision could be.
“The approach … adopted by the trial judge threatens to shift the structure of Canadian federalism, as well as the structure of economic regulation in Canada,” Lavoie wrote. “There is simply no question that a robust interpretation of the Constitution’s free-trade provision would restrict the power of democratic majorities, especially at the provincial level, to set economic policies.”