Beer trial told Fathers of Confederation wanted free trade among provinces

A court case on whether a man from New Brunswick can legally buy cheaper cases of beer in Quebec delved into Canadian history Wednesday, hearing from a constitutional expert on the intention of the Fathers of Confederation regarding free trade between the provinces.

CAMPBELLTON, N.B. — A court case on whether a man from New Brunswick can legally buy cheaper cases of beer in Quebec delved into Canadian history Wednesday, hearing from a constitutional expert on the intention of the Fathers of Confederation regarding free trade between the provinces.

“The law that bans people from bringing beer across the border from Quebec to New Brunswick is a travesty of what the Fathers of Confederation wanted,” said Andrew Smith, a professor of political history at the University of Liverpool in England.

“The Fathers of Confederation wanted a comprehensive economic union. They wanted unfettered trade between the provinces.”

Smith is considered the key defence witness in the case of a New Brunswick man charged with illegally importing alcohol from Quebec.

Gerard Comeau of Tracadie is fighting the charge on constitutional grounds.

An agreed statement of facts says he was caught in October 2012 with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor that he had bought in nearby Pointe-a-la-Croix.

The New Brunswick Liquor Control Act limits anyone from having more than 12 pints of beer not sold by a provincially licensed liquor outlet.

The defence argues that a section of the Liquor Control Act is unconstitutional because Section 121 of the Constitution Act says all goods from a province are to be admitted free into each of the other provinces.

“Admitted free means of all impediments,” Smith told the court Wednesday.

Smith said his study of history shows the Fathers of Confederation wanted free trade within the provinces.

“There was general acceptance of the need for free trade and a consensus for economic union,” he said.

Defence lawyer Mikael Bernard said it was important to have Smith explain to the court what the Fathers of Confederation intended.

“Let’s go back to 1864, 1863, 1865, 1866 and 1867 to find out what were their intentions, not just read the piece of paper as it stands today. Let’s put everything into context,” Bernard said.

The Crown has begun questioning a political science professor on how the Constitution has evolved since it was enacted in 1867.

Tom Bateman, from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said there have been many events that have impacted how the federal government and the provinces work together such as the introduction of the War Measures Act, Quebec referendums and the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.

He said regardless of Section 121 of the Constitution Act, there are policies in place that limit free trade between provinces.

“It makes perfect sense to me that a province with a certain tax structure may be an impediment to trade,” he said.

He also pointed out that marketing boards set up to protect prices and avoid overproduction of certain agricultural products restrict farmers from sending and selling their products freely.

Bateman will continue his testimony Thursday.

RCMP Const. Guy Savoie, the arresting officer, told the court that no one complained to police that New Brunswick residents were buying cheaper beer in Quebec.

Instead, he said the decision was made by a corporal at the detachment to enforce the provincial law that limits the amount of beer that can be imported.

Under questioning from defence lawyer Arnold Schwisberg, Savoie couldn’t explain why police confiscated all of Comeau’s liquor, including what he was allowed to have.

“It was our instruction to seize all the beer. I didn’t question,” Savoie said.

Comeau was also given a fine of $292.50.

A total of 17 people were fined and had their liquor confiscated during the two-day operation, which included RCMP officers in Quebec.

Savoie said no similar sting operations have been conducted since.

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