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Supreme Court cross-border beer case raises fears of 'race to the bottom'

Supreme Court cross-border beer case raises fears of 'race to the bottom'
From CBC - December 7, 2017

If the Supreme Court of Canada upholds the acquittal of a New Brunswick man whowas fined after being caught transporting 14 cases of cheap beer and three bottles of liquor home from Quebec, the result will be a "race to the bottom" for provincial standards protecting the public, argues a senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Rob Cunningham, who is an Ottawa-based lawyer, says the Gerard Comeaucase has been "mischaracterized" by some as being about allowing beer brewed in one province to besold in another provincethe so-called "free the beer" case.

He contends the case could have"serious implications" for the ability of provincial governments to adopt legislation for products such as alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, including controlling the retail distribution systems for such products.

Comeau, a retired NB Power linesman fromTracadie, was stopped at the New Brunswick-Quebec border byRCMPin 2012 and fined $292.50 forviolatingthe New Brunswick Liquor Control Act, which sets apersonal importation limit of12pints ofbeer (about 18 cans or bottles), or one bottle ofwine or spirits.

He contested the charge andCampbelltonprovincial court Judge RonaldLeBlancruled in April 2016,the liquor restriction was unconstitutional. Section121 of the ConstitutionAct states products from any province "shall be admitted free into each of the other provinces."

New Brunswick's attorney general is now appealingLeBlanc'sdecision to the country's highest court, with the second dayof hearings set to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET. on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the nine-justice panel heard arguments from New Brunswick, the federal government, seven other provinces and two territories, as well asan intervener group of agriculture supply management associations known jointlyas the SM-5 Organizations.

On Thursday,Comeau's lawyers will make their submissions, along with 11other interveners, ranging from small wineries and beer giants, to a marijuana advocacy group and a consumer organization.

'A single province with a weak standard could have products manufactured and exported to other provinces, regardless of more stringent standards (non-tariff barriers) in those provinces.' - Rob Cunningham, Canadian Cancer Society

Cunningham, who says he will be in the Ottawa courtroom again on Thursday, supports New Brunswick's position that provinces should have the ability to regulate harmful substances, such as alcohol.

Otherwise, he believes there would be "widespread alcohol smuggling," with lower prices leading to increased consumption.

Section 121 'unmistakably clear'

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