Supreme Court of Canada hears from interveners during rare two-day hearing
Five small BC wineries, intervening on behalf of a coalition of more than 100 B.C. wineries, had their day in court on Thursday, December 7, during a rare two-day hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada.
The wineries were represented by Coulson Litigation. The R. v. Comeau hearing addressed the legal barriers to inter-provincial shipping of Canadian wine, and how it has negatively impacted consumer choice, as well as threatening the local wine industry itself.
“The Court was engaged in a deep debate about whether to expand the constitutional guarantee for a national common market in Canada, and if so, to what extent,” reflects Coulson.
“The Court was particularly concerned with judges entering too far into the policy jurisdiction of the democratically-elected provincial governments. At the same time, they recognized that the current situation regarding national distribution of liquor is not ideal.”
The case is a constitutional challenge, stemming from when Gerard Comeau was stopped and fined in 2012, after carrying purchased beverage alcohol from Quebec across the New Brunswick border. The challenge is to convince the court to uphold the “letter and spirit” of the 1867 Constitution, to provide some level of constitutional guarantee of free trade.
The majority of non-government interveners, as well as most Canadians (89 per cent, according to a recent Ipsos poll), side with Comeau. If the constitutional interpretation ends up reducing interprovincial trade barriers, it will become easier for individuals as well as industry to access a national market, potentially contributing an additional $50 to $130 billion to the gross domestic product.
The outcome of the case, expected to be decided on in 2018, will determine the extent to which Canada is a national common market for Canadian-made liquor. The case will have resounding impacts across Canada, however it is decided.
The five intervening small B.C. wineries are Okanagan Crush Pad, Liquidity Wines, Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery, 50th Parallel Estate, and Painted Rock Estate Winery.
Christine Coletta, owner of Okanagan Crush Pad, who traveled to Ottawa to attend the discussions, says “My hope is that we will be able to direct ship to loyal wine lovers across Canada. This will give small wineries like ours incentive to develop broad-reaching tourism initiatives that draw people to wine country. Once visitors return home and request our wines it is essential that we can continue the relationship from afar.”
Ian Macdonald, owner of Liquidity Winery agrees. “I hope the Comeau Case will give the nearly 800 small wineries in this country the chance to share their farm-based products freely with all Canadians. Direct to Consumer wine shipments are the norm in all other wine producing countries, and have proven essential for small winery economic viability.”
Other interveners included the attorneys general from almost every province and territory, as well as representatives from the Canadian Vintners Association, the Association of Canadian Distillers, Canada’s National Brewers, Cannabis Culture, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Federation of Independent Business, among others.
Leslie D’Andrea, owner of BC winery Noble Ridge, adds “My vision for Canada is that every Canadian, regardless of home residence, can easily and readily enjoy the opportunity of tasting, purchasing and receiving any and all Canadian wines, as supported by our Canadian Constitution, Section 121.”
The five BC wineries accepted as interveners have supported the cost of the initial application process (approximately $70k of their own money to date) and are prepared to fund this effort further. They ask all small and medium Canadian wineries to consider contributing to the legal fees that will help their team address questions at the heart of Canada’s constitution. Any amount, large or small will make a difference.
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