Opinion: Beer smuggling case has deep implications on health policy


With the Supreme Court hearing arguments in the Comeau case this week, a great deal is at stake. While on the surface the case is about bringing a few cases of beer across a provincial border, the case has potentially profound public health implications regarding a provincial government’s ability to tax and regulate not just alcohol, but also tobacco, cannabis and other products.

The case involves a New Brunswick resident, Gerard Comeau, who drove to neighbouring Quebec — where government-mandated alcohol prices are lower than in New Brunswick – to buy beer. He brought 15 cases back to New Brunswick, thus engaging in the functional equivalent of alcohol tax evasion. He received a ticket, and his lawyer filed a constitutional challenge.

The New Brunswick provincial court upheld the challenge, saying provincial legislation requiring all alcohol to be purchased through the provincial alcohol monopoly, ANBL, infringes interprovincial free trade. This conclusion, however, is mistaken. The purpose of this particular provision is in no way to give preference to New Brunswick alcohol over products from other provinces. All alcohol products, regardless of province, must be sold through ANBL. In fact, ANBL stores sell alcohol from across Canada and around the world.

The purpose of the government monopoly is to control a harmful product, to prevent contraband, and to maintain the required higher prices, which has the dual benefit of decreasing alcohol consumption and increasing government revenue. That higher prices decrease consumption, whether for alcohol or tobacco, is recognized by Health Canada and the World Health Organization. Youth are especially sensitive to price.

At its core, the Comeau case is about beer smuggling. If today it is 15 cases of beer, why not 15 truckloads tomorrow, or 1,500 truckloads the month after?

Government alcohol monopolies are consistent with not only free trade within Canada, …read more

Source:: Edmonton Journal

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