Lawyer Shea Coulson, representing a group of B.C. wineries, presents arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada for lifting interprovincial trade barriers. Photo courtesy the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lawyer Shea Coulson, representing a group of B.C. wineries, presents arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada for lifting interprovincial trade barriers. Photo courtesy the Supreme Court of Canada.

B.C. wine industry fights for interprovincial trade in Supreme Court

Gerard Comeau likely never thought he would end up in the Supreme Court of Canada when he drove into Quebec to buy some cheap beer and bring it back to his New Brunswick home.

Comeau got a $292.50 fine for violating New Brunswick’s Liquor Control Act and his Supreme Court appeal, which closed after two days of presentations Thursday, could have ramifications for interprovincial trade across the country.

Lawyer Shea Coulson described the debate as a question how Section 121 of the Canadian Constitution should be interpreted, and whether or not it should extend into the areas viewed as belonging to the provinces.

Section 121 states items created in any province should be admitted freely into each of the other provinces. However, a precedent decision, known as Gold Seal, has allowed restriction that many provinces are using to block wine, beer and other alcohol across provincial borders.

“Gold Seal says that section 121 of the constitution is limited to protecting against tariff barriers only. It does not include non-tariff barriers,” said Coulson, who represented a group of intervenors from the B.C. wine industry to the court — Curtis Krouzel (50th Parallel Estate), Ian MacDonald (Liquidity Wines), Jim D’Andrea (Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery), Christine Coletta (Okanagan Crush Pad Winery) and John Skinner (Painted Rock Estate Winery).

Related: B.C. wine industry rallying for a fight

Sandra Oldfield, the former owner of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, travelled to Ottawa to observe the appeal case. Some of the conversations, she said, suggested local businesses would lose income and provinces would lose taxation revenue by freeing up interprovincial trade in spirits.

“I don’t really see where alcohol should be singled out for that. They’re already getting provincial taxes and everything on alcohol,” she said, noting that when B.C. didn’t seem to suffer when it lowered trade barriers five years ago, one of only three provinces to do so after Bill C-311 — introduced by MP Dan Albas — eliminated the federal blocks.

Coulson presented arguments that there is currently no national market for liquor in Canada, due to the current interpretation of Section 121 and Gold Seal.

“As a result small and boutique producers of Canadian wines find themselves shackled to the limits of their physical location in their province. They cannot access a national market, and thus, they cannot grow beyond a small regional industry,” said Coulson to the Supreme Court justices.

B.C. was one of three provinces that relaxed interprovincial trade barriers after Bill C-311 was passed five years ago. Oldfield said it hasn’t seemed to have hurt the B.C. wine industry, which has continued to grow.

“It’s not like we’ve had a flood of Ontario wines; if they’ve come in, in any amount, it certainly hasn’t hurt our industry,” said Oldfield. “I’ve never been a big believer that opening up the borders is going to take something away from the liquor board or the other side.

“When Canadians are exposed to more Canadian wine, they are going to drink more Canadian wines.”

Coulson and other intervenors argued that Section 121 was intended to create a national common market, balanced with appropriate protections for regional interests. That, he said, showed a need for a test to determine if provincial provisions are exclusionary, or served a real provincial need.

“It seems that most of the court recognizes that the trade barriers that do exist in Canada, particularly in relation to alcohol, are issues but some of the judges are questioning whether the court should be the one to resolve those issues, or should it be the government.

Noting that there doesn’t seem to be a problem with people having access to cheap Australian wines across the country, Oldfield said the industry’s desire isn’t to flood other provinces with B.C. wine.

“We should be able to forge a relationship with someone who walks in the winery door,” said Oldfield. “They want to be able to continue the relationship by joining our wine club and we want to be able to fulfill that order.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vernon swimming pool is closed Friday. (morning star file photo)
Swim, skate and play fees rise 5% in Vernon

Weekend hours also reduced as rec centre struggles with fewer people and fewer funds

The team of horses is ready to pull riders for Caravan Farm Theatre’s sold-out Winter Sleigh-Ride Show of the Gift from Dec. 8-Jan.2. The Spallumcheen theatre company wants the province to include live theatre on its list of businesses allowed to operate during COVID-19. (File photo)
Spallumcheen theatre group plans for socially safe winter show to go on

Caravan Farm Theatre asks province to include live theatre on lists of businesses allowed to operate

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
104 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

IH is reporting the new numbers since Friday, Nov. 20

Lumby Mayor Kevin Acton (left) and Regional District North Okanagan Electoral Area D Rural Lumby director Rick Fairbairn (right) congratulate members of the Lumby and District Fire Department for receiving gold pin awards in response to a rollover accident in July 2020. (RDNO Photo)
Lumby firefighters golden in duty

Company presents firefighters with gold pin for heroic efforts following rollover crash

RCMP pictured at a motor vehicle incident during snowy conditions. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B&E, stolen car in Vernon lands Whitehorse man in cuffs

Suspect takes off on foot in attempts to evade arrest

The Animal Food Bank is asking for donations as the pandemic continues and the holidays approach. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Okanagan Animal Food Bank in need of donations as pandemic continues

The Animal Food Bank provides food for any domestic pet in need

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

A concept rendering of the proposed Costco at the corner of Baron, Leckie and Springfield roads. (WSP Global)
Contentious Kelowna Costco relocation moved to public hearing

Costco looking to move less than a kilometre away to build a larger store with more parking, gas bar

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest B.C. premier tells Okanagan girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

Penticton Search and Rescue along with the Penticton Fire Department located and airlifted an injured 21-year-old female hiker Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (Mike Biden photo)
Penticton search and rescue airlift injured hiker off mountain

There has been an unprecedented amount of calls for search and rescue this year

Most Read