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Alberta's Bizarre Position on Wine Shipping Law Reform

This past weekend saw the Vancouver Sun publish an excellent editorial on wine shipping law reform (Allow Wineries To Sell Anywhere in Canada) with the newspaper arguing that the provinces and liquor boards should respect the democratic will of Canadians and embrace the spirit of interprovincial trade in wine as contemplated by Bill C-311 (which became law in June of this year). Unfortunately, as the editorial noted, many provinces and liquor boards are actively trying to prevent their own citizens from having consumer choice in the wine market and being able to direct order wine from other provinces. Perhaps, the most mystifying approach has been adopted by Alberta. As I have pointed out previously (see: Rule of Law Missed by Liquor Boards on Shipping Issue), Alberta provincial law clearly allows its citizens to "import" wine from other provinces for an adult's "personal use and consumption" (see s.89 of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Regulation). Prior to the passage of Bill C-311, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) took the position that Albertans were unable to direct order wine from other provinces because, although this Alberta law permitted it, federal law did not. Indeed, I received confirmation of that position from AGLC's legal counsel in 2009. Of course, once Bill C-311 passed, the federal prohibition was removed ... and thus, one would assume that Albertans would be free to direct order wine from other provinces. However, AGLC has recently been making statements that it does not permit direct ordering and the responsible minister confirmed this position in a speech last week. As a result and in my view, both AGLC and the responsible minister have now taken a position which it is not reasonably possible to support when you read the relevant Alberta laws. I spent many years in Alberta when I was a kid and I can attest that its citizens are very proud of its "strong and free" approach to public policy. What is one to think of an Alberta provincial government that thumbs its nose at a unanimous vote in support of direct shipping by the House of Commons, ignores a Bill that was passed by every single member of a federal government whose Prime Minister hails from Calgary, and that comes up with bizarre interpretations of its own laws in an effort to deprive Albertans of the liberty to purchase wine from a winery in a neighbouring province. This is not the Alberta that I fondly remember. The editorial writers at the Vancouver Sun are correct: it is time for the provinces and their liquor boards to respect the rule of law and, just as importantly, to respect the democratic will of Canadians who simply want to be able to purchase wine from other places within their own country.