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Rule of Law Missed by Liquor Boards on Shipping Issue

The FreeMyGrapes campaign, which is pressing for reform of Canada's archaic interprovincial wine shipping restrictions, recently requested that the various provincial liquor boards clarify their interpretations of whether it is legal for individuals to have wine shipped to them from wineries in other provinces (i.e. direct to consumer wine shipments). You can read the responses here. I have now updated my recent Shipping Law Update August 2011 to include an analysis of those responses. From a legal perspective, the responses are problematic because some of them appear to ignore the plain meaning of the liquor laws that the boards are supposed to operate under. Please read the Update for the full details but here is a summary:

Alberta. Alberta law states that the "importation" of wine for personal consumption is legal but the AGLC says that you can only import wine if it "accompanies the individual". The law makes no such distinction and the plain meaning of "importation" includes direct to consumer shipments.

Ontario. Ontario law does not deal with the importation of wine from other provinces but the LCBO has created a new "policy" permitting importation of specified amounts "on their person". Since the LCBO has no powers outside Ontario or over interprovincial trade, it is difficult to see how the LCBO can use its "internal policy" to modify a federal law that prohibits the behaviour in question.

PEI. PEI law permits individuals to "import" and keep up to 2 litres of wine from other provinces but the PEILCC says you can only do that if you bring the wine "on your person". Once again, the law makes no such distinction and the plain meaning of "import" includes direct to consumer shipments.

While change is welcome, even in small steps, the troubling aspect of the above is that the liquor boards appear to be interpreting their own laws in a manner which is inconsistent with the plain meaning of the law. In my view, the liquor boards are obliged to apply and interpret the laws as they are written. If they don't like the laws, they can ask their respective governments to change them. You and I are not free to interpret liquor laws (or any laws) in ways which we would prefer but which are contrary to their plain meaning. Liquor boards are also required to follow the rule of law.