It’s fitting that after a year of significant liquor law announcements, reforms, and court cases coming from across the country, the Ontario Court of Appeal would release a liquor law decision just before the start of the New Year. While the result was unfortunate for the Toronto Distillery Company, and affirms a common practice used by liquor control boards to extract tax revenue from small producers, it does provide food for thought for liquor lawyers from coast-to-coast.
In the 1920s, as Prohibition in Canada was on the retreat, the federal government and each of the provincial governments were in agreement that liquor sales and consumption needed to be tightly controlled. To facilitate this agenda each province created a liquor control board that monopolized the wholesale purchasing, pricing, and retailing of alcoholic beverages under a heavily regulated regime.
In January of this year the Toronto Distillery Company (the “Distillery”) brought an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for a declaration that the levy imposed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (the “LCBO”) on the sale of its products at its on-site retail store is unconstitutional. The Distillery’s position is that the “levy” the LCBO charges on all of its products is in substance a “tax” and only the Parliament of Canada or the Legislature of Ontario has the authority to impose taxes.
On August 18, 2016 the Minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation announced a series of changes to the Yukon’s liquor laws in line with the government’s previous commitment to “modernize and streamline liquor regulations”. In all, 26 regulatory changes were announced that came into effect immediately. The President of the Yukon Liquor Corporation described the changes as improving consumer convenience, reducing administrative processes and clarifying business practices. Laudable goals indeed. The press release and full list of regulatory changes can be found here.
On April 13, 2016 the British Columbia Court of Appeal released its reasons in The Cambie Malone’s Corporation v. British Columbia (Liquor Control and Licensing Branch).
Alcohol & Advocacy has previously considered what it means to be a fit and proper person for the purpose of holding a liquor licence in British Columbia: the criteria are broad and the discretion is great. Many of the criteria relate to an assessment of what the licence applicant has actually done, such as having a criminal record or committing violations of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act. But what about the less objective criteria – such as being “of good reputation and character” or being “associated” with people involved in criminal activities? How do regulators interpret those requirements?
Over four days in late August, 2015 the harrowing tale of Mr. Comeau’s fateful trip across the J.C. Van Horne Bridge that connects Quebec and New Brunswick, with a trunk full of booze, was played out in a court room in the town of Campbellton, New Brunswick – population 7, 385.