Canada: The Comeau Case: Are We Headed For Liberalized Interprovincial Trade In Canada? The Supreme Court Will Soon Decide

The Provincial Court of New Brunswick's decision in R. v. Comeau was rendered on April 29, 2016 by Judge Ronald LeBlanc in Campbellton, N.B. While it has not garnered a lot of media attention in Quebec, this decision, which is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada, could have a major impact on interprovincial trade, specifically in terms of liberalizing the market for alcoholic beverages, and generally on the powers of the provinces to legislate on imports from other Canadian provinces. 

1. The facts and key issue in the Comeau decision 

Gérard Comeau was charged under the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act for having crossed the border into New Brunswick from Quebec with more than five cases of beer in his possession. In his defence against the charge, Mr. Comeau argued that the Liquor Control Act is of no force or effect, as it contravenes section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867 ("Section 121") by imposing a non-tariff trade barrier to the transport of alcohol between provinces. Section 121 provides that: 

"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." 

"Tous articles du crû, de la provenance ou manufacture d'aucune des provinces seront, à dater de l'union, admis en franchise dans chacune des autres provinces." 

 [emphasis added] 

The Attorney General of New Brunswick (the "Attorney General") argued that the Liquor Control Act does not contravene Section 121, as that section is only intended to prohibit tariff trade barriers between the provinces, such as customs duties. Section 121 therefore allows the provinces to impose restrictions of all kinds, other than "customs duties", on interprovincial trade. 

In light of the parties' respective positions, the Court had to decide on the interpretation of the terms "admitted free / admis en franchise" as used in Section 121, in order to determine whether they prohibit non-tariff as well as tariff barriers to interprovincial trade. 

2. The judgment's conclusions

To the surprise of many, and despite decades of consistent case law to the contrary, Judge LeBlanc agreed with most of the defence's arguments and acquitted Mr. Comeau. In the judge's view, the intention of the Fathers of Confederation prior to the enactment of the Constitution Act, 1867 was that Section 121 would prohibit both tariff and non-tariff barriers to interprovincial trade, in order to foster free trade throughout the new nation. 

By thus interpreting Section 121, Judge LeBlanc knowingly placed himself at odds with the interpretation adopted in 1921 by the Supreme Court of Canada in Gold Seal Ltd. v. Alberta (Attorney General). In that landmark judgment, followed many times since, the country's highest court decided that Section 121 was aimed solely at prohibiting interprovincial customs duties and did not prevent the provinces from imposing other restrictions on interprovincial trade. 

3. The New Brunswick Court of Appeal refuses to intervene 

Following Judge LeBlanc's decision, the Attorney General appealed the judgment to the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick, but the appeal was dismissed. The Attorney General therefore applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and on May 4, 2017 it agreed to hear the appeal. 

4. The potential consequences of the Supreme Court's decision

The Supreme Court's decision in R. v. Comeau could not only result in the liberalization of the market for alcoholic beverages, but have a significant impact on interprovincial trade in general.  If the Court endorses this broad and very liberal interpretation of Section 121, its decision would foster a liberalization of interprovincial commerce well beyond the trade in alcoholic beverages, and significantly limit the interventionist role of the provinces in the economic realm. For if the highest court in the land takes the view that the terms "admitted free / admis en franchise" prohibit both tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, we could see a wave of challenges to many of the measures put in place by the provinces over time to regulate intra-provincial commerce, support and protect the local economy, or develop new economic niches. 

Such an interpretation of Section 121 could be relied on, for example, to challenge the restrictions imposed by agricultural marketing boards on commodities such as wheat, eggs, poultry and dairy products. Of course, some industries would benefit from a complete opening up of the markets. Products that are hard to find in one province or another would become readily available there. Other businesses however would have to modernize rapidly, or radically modify their price structures. 

Thus, the pending decision of the Supreme Court could have very significant consequences for the Canadian economic ecosystem and on the interventionist powers of the provinces in the economic sphere. 

With special thanks to law students Karine Virgile  and Raphaëlle Alimi-Lacroix.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions