Supreme Court Declares Provincial Trade Barriers Constitutional

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled provincial trade barriers are constitutional — knocking down “the Comeau Case,” also known as the “free-the-beer case.”

This Supreme Court ruling concluded that “Section 121 [of the Constitution Act, 1867) does not impose absolute free trade across Canada,” indicating that provinces have the power to enact laws that restrict trade, so long as this is not their primary purpose.

The case originated in 2012 when New Brunswick resident Gerard Comeau contested a charge he received for “importing” more than the legal limit of alcohol from Quebec. In 2016, the New Brunswick Provincial Court concluded the prohibition on possessing alcohol purchased outside the province was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court decision is likely a disappointment for many, as the food-and-beverage industry, as well as the general public, had thrown their support behind the liberalization of trade within Canada.