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Canada's Booze Laws Might Be Unconstitutional

Gerard Comeau was charged with illegally importing 14 cases of beer, two bottles of whisky and a bottle of liqueur. Now, he's in court challenging Canada's national booze policy.
Photo via Flickr user Walter

Three years ago, retired steelworker Gerard Comeau crossed the border with 14 cases of beer, two bottles of whisky and a bottle of liqueur—not the US-Canada border, but the Quebec-New Brunswick border.

Before Comeau could get from the boozy Quebec border town of Pointe-à-la-Croix to his home two hours away in Tracadie, N.B., he was intercepted by the RCMP who seized his impressive stash and fined him $292.50 CAD.


His only crime: trying to stock his fridge and liquor cabinet. The relatively cheap beer prices in Quebec make it a popular destination for thrifty drinkers in neighbouring Ontario and New Brunswick.

In October 2012, the Mounties seized over 5,000 bottles of beer and charged 17 people, including Comeau, with illegally importing beer from Quebec. But unlike the other offenders in the RCMP crackdown, Comeau decided to go to court and fight the fine out of principle. And his now-legendary booze run may have turned him into an unwitting civil rights champion in a court case that could lead to a national change in Canada's booze laws.

Comeau and his lawyers have been in court all week to argue that Canada's founding fathers wanted a free flow of liquor across the Great North and guaranteed this right in the Constitution, which allows for the "growth, produce, or manufacture" of any province to be "admitted free into each of the other provinces."

Legally, the problem is that New Brunswick law only allows for the purchase of one bottle of wine or hard liquor and 18 cans or bottles of beer from another province.

New Brunswick resident Linda Pelletier was shocked that the restriction was so low. "Oh, geez that's not enough," she told the CBC upon learning about the restriction.

Not enough, indeed. And with cases of beer $10 cheaper on the French-speaking side of an imaginary line, the "smuggling" of beer from Quebec back to New Brunswick has become a widespread practice with many residents pleading ignorance or willful blindness to the rules. And as Comeau fights against a $292.50 fine, the fallout of his case could have huge ramifications across Canada.


The Intoxicating Liquors Act is a federal law that essentially delegates the regulation of alcohol to provincial authorities. The result is a complicated legal maze with prices and fines fluctuating from province to province.

Last year, the provincial court judge presiding over Comeau's trial admitted that the outcome could be "revolutionary." Comeau has bolstered his claim of interprovincial free trade with a political scientist, a historian from the University of Liverpool and brewers, all of whom testified in favour of Canadian free trade liquor.

He has also received funding from the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a group of lawyers dedicated to upholding the constitutional rights of Canadians "through education, communication and litigation." And, if they have their way, the right to cheap alcohol, they hope, will soon be inalienable.

The CCF started a crowdfunding campaign and is asking Canadians to "stand alongside Gerard as he takes on the New Brunswick government in a case so crucial to interprovincial trade that it is likely to end up before the Supreme Court."

For these civil libertarians, this case is about more than beer. "We hope this case will strengthen a fundamental tenet of our constitution and achieve a goal the founders of this country tried to achieve nearly 150 years ago by binding together disparate colonies with different economic strengths."

Gerard Comeau's trial is about the founding fathers' vision of a Canada where you can cross provincial lines with as much booze as you want without being badgered by the Mounties.