Constitutional battles now brewing over wine boycott

The B.C. Wine Institute became the second party to challenge Alberta's B.C. wine boycott, announcing plans to seek an injunction today, Feb. 21, 2018. The province issued a trade challenge on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.
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PENTICTON - The legal battle challenging Alberta’s right to stop the flow of B.C. wine into the province is building on several fronts as stakeholders and a constitutional rights group consider a court challenge to the boycott.

The B.C. Wine Institute announced today, Feb. 21 they will be seeking an injunction challenging the constitutionality of the ban imposed by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.

The wine institute notes the ban, which has been in place since Feb. 6, is "severely harming" B.C. wineries and grape growers, many of which are small, family-owned operations.

The institute also notes the ban highlights the larger issue of interprovincial free trade.

"We believe it is unconstitutional to prohibit the import of Canadian goods into another province based solely on where they come from. All Canadians should be concerned, because if wine can be prohibited based on its province of origin, so can any product from any other province,” added Prodan. “We hope that the AGLC will take this opportunity to end the unfair targeting of the B.C. wine industry,” he said.

The wine institute’s move follows a new B.C government response announced Monday. B.C. notified the Government of Alberta it is formally requesting consultations under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement in what will be the first formal dispute to occur under that agreement.

The free trade legislation gives both sides four months to resolve the dispute before going to arbitration.

The constitutional rights and freedoms watchdog, Canadian Constitution Foundation, is also challenging the wine boycott.

The foundation is a registered charity dedicated to defending constitutional rights and freedoms in the court or through public opinion.

Foundation lawyer Derek James From says he believes Alberta is violating section 121 of the Constitution Act and Article 201 of the Canada Free Trade Agreement, calling the boycott, “illegal and bad policy.”

From says the boycott is contrary to an internal trade agreement within Canada allowing free movement of goods across provincial borders.

“In my opinion, Alberta is clearly violating both section 121 and its trade obligations, and harming small businesses, including small Alberta businesses," he says. 

From says his group is trying to raise awareness about the issue, with no immediate plans to challenge the government in court, but adds if the situation doesn’t change in the next week or so, other options will be discussed.

The foundation has previously supported Gerald Comeau of New Brunswick in a case that caught national attention in 2012 after Comeau was charged under New Brunswick law for violating cross border liquor purchases by bringing back more than 12 pints of beer.

The charity also took on the Alberta government, winning a recent court decision that said Alberta’s craft brewers rebate program and graduated beer price markups violated Canada’s agreement on internal trade. The Alberta government is appealing that decision.

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