Ancient Law Hurting Inter-provincial Wine Trade

An open letter from Jim Warren, president of the Ontario Viticulture Association:

With NAFTA firmly entrenched in the Canadian economy and negotiations currently underway for a similar agreement with the European Union, you’d think that free trade between provinces would be a given. Canadians from all provinces can order Quebec cheese or Saskatchewan cherries or Maritime seafood for delivery to their home province. But the same freedom does not apply to another Canadian product: wine.

You cannot order a bottle of wine from that nice little winery you visited in another province last summer and have it delivered to your door. If you try to, you will be running afoul of the law.

The Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act of 1928 (IILA) is a Canadian law – albeit an 82-year old one – that was devised to ease the country out of prohibition. The law hands the privilege of importation over to the province, and in most provinces only your provincial government agent, in the form of a liquor board, can import liquor under this statute. And so, you are breaking the law when you cross any provincial boundary in possession of any alcoholic beverage, even if you are bringing it home in your own car or returning with a single bottle of wine on a flight between two provinces. In fact, you cannot legally pack a cooler with beer and wine and then cross a provincial border for a weekend get-away.

Sadly this post-prohibition but pre-depression law prevents most small and mid-size Canadian wineries from selling their wine to hard-won customers in other provinces. With few exceptions, the provincial liquor authorities only import domestic wines from the larger Canadian wineries. As a result, smaller wineries are essentially shut out of the market in all provinces except their own. It also means that Canadian wine consumers can rarely access wine from the dedicated small producers that comprise the heart of quality Canadian wine.

There are many legal opinions that state the IILA is in fact unconstitutional under the Constitution Act of 1867, the law that founded Canada. Section 121 [Freedom of Goods] of this all-powerful Canadian statute reads:

“All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.” (emphasis added)

This seems to be straightforward enough, so why is Canadian wine, which is clearly the product of one province, denied entry into another province?

Perhaps more to the point, the only entities that benefit from this law are the provincial liquor commissions, which already have a monopoly on liquor importation, a near-monopoly on liquor sales, and unrestricted power to tax, levy, mark-up, or otherwise relieve consumers of their money. And this from a public corporation!

OVA calls on the Government of Canada to put an end to this 82-year-old nonsense and repeal the IILA. Give Canadian consumers the right to purchase Canadian wines throughout Canada.
Further, OVA calls on all Provincial Governments in Canada to work together to support the interests of all Canadians and the entire Canadian wine industry by allowing interprovincial sales.

Note: OVA is a group of 104 Ontario winery members, with a further 67 wineries throughout Canada as associate

Jim Warren, President