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SAQ Threatens Canadian Wineries on DTC Shipments

In the midst of a pandemic which has caused widespread economic pain for the Canadian wine industry, the SAQ (the Quebec liquor authority) has issued an information bulletin which threatens Canadian wineries outside Quebec with enforcement action if they direct ship wine to Quebec customers. The bulletin is located here: Sale and direct delivery of beverage alcohol products to Quebec. Apparently, this bulletin was also sent directly (in the form of a letter) to certain Ontario wineries.

It should be noted that the issues surrounding the interprovincial shipment of alcohol in Canada are complex and were the subject of a relatively recent Supreme Court of Canada decision, R. v. Comeau, which largely upheld restrictive provincial laws. However, the decision also indicated that provincial laws or rules that discriminate as between \”out of province\” and \”in province\” producers could be held to be unconstitutional. Quebec has such laws/rules in that it permits Quebec wineries to direct ship within Quebec but does not permit \”out of province\” wineries to do so. For more detailed information on the laws and rules related to interprovincial DTC shipment, wineries may wish to consult with a lawyer or, for more general information, subscribe to the Alca Winery Compliance Subscription that is available on our sister web-site.

The issuance of the bulletin by the SAQ is a disappointing development as the Canadian wine industry has been working on initiatives to open the country up to the interprovincial trade in wine for years (see Wine Growers Canada and FreeMyGrapes websites). Indeed, the provinces had committed to increase interprovincial access for the alcohol sector in an Action Plan stemming from the 2017 Canadian Free Trade Agreement and had formed a feasibility group to accomplish this. This action flies directly against the spirit of these efforts. At at time when the Canadian economy needs all the help that it can get, it is sad to see a provincial liquor board take an action that will suppress interprovincial economic activity and actively hurt Canadian wine producers in other provinces. Such actions would be unheard of in France where it is, of course, completely legal to ship wine from one part of the country to another. Unfortunately, it appears that the SAQ, and the Quebec government, is taking a narrow short-term view that will ultimately harm Quebec wine consumers.


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BC Extends Patio Service Area Expansions Until October 2021

The BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch announced today that its earlier program to allow expanded service areas for liquor licensees (including winery tasting rooms and lounges) is being extended from its current end date of Oct 31, 2020 to Oct 31, 2021. This program allows for larger serving areas (e.g. patios) for licensees in order to accommodate physical distancing requirements and other public health order requirements. The policy directive and details are here: Temporary Expanded Service Area – Extension. This change is obviously good news for licensees who will now be able to plan for expanded service areas to continue through the winter and through the bulk of next year. 

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BC Hospitality Industry Calls for Revised and Focused Covid Response Measures

In an open letter to the BC Provincial Health Officer and the BC Government, the members of the BC Technical Advisory Panel on Liquor Policy (\”BTAP\” – a group appointed by the BC government to advise on issues related to the liquor industry) have asked for reconsideration and modification of recent orders made by the Health Officer related to the Covid19 pandemic.

On September 8th, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Health Officer, ordered all nightclubs and standalone banquet halls to close, ordered music volumes to be reduced, and ordered that all liquor service in all licensees throughout the province must end at 10 pm. BTAP is concerned about both the policy rationale and the devastating economic consequences of these orders, and are particularly concerned about these issues in relation to ending liquor service at 10 PM.

Specifically, BTAP has requested and suggested that government consider the following:

  • Extend the end of liquor service from 10 PM to midnight
  • Greater enforcement of non-compliant venues and customers, targeting the problem areas directly rather than unfairly affecting good operators
  • Provide transparent timelines and/or public health targets so businesses can gauge the long-term effect of any restrictions

Download a copy of the letter.

Full disclosure: I formerly chaired the BTAP Panel and am still a member of the Panel.