Supreme Court passes the buck by refusing to free the beer

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Howard Anglin is the Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which has supported Gérard Comeau’s case, along with his attorneys Ian Blue, Arnold Schwisberg, Mikael Bernard, and Daria Peregoudova.

Barriers to free trade within Canada are a real problem, but don’t look to the courts to solve them: that, in essence, was what the Supreme Court of Canada said in R. v. Comeau, the case of the New Brunswick man who was fined $292.50 for buying beer in Quebec and driving it home across his provincial border.

At the heart of the Court’s decision was the meaning of section 121 of the Constitution Act of 1867, which says that “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall … be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.” Gérard Comeau’s lawyers provided historical evidence, and the trial judge had agreed, that this language was intended to limit provincial laws at the point when they interfere with the free movement of goods across provincial borders. On the other side, New Brunswick, backed by most of the other provinces, argued that a broad application of Section 121 would undermine their ability to regulate local matters, including the distribution and sale of alcohol.

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