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New Brunswick liquor corporation defends restrictions on cross-border beer sales

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CAMPBELLTON, N.B. — A senior official with New Brunswick’s liquor corporation is defending a law that limits anyone in the province from having more than 12 pints of beer that weren’t sold by a provincially licensed liquor outlet.

Richard Smith, senior vice-president with the NB Liquor Corp., testified Tuesday at a court hearing where Gerard Comeau of Tracadie is mounting a constitutional challenge of the system after he was charged with illegally importing alcohol into New Brunswick from neighbouring Quebec.

Without legislation to prevent the direct sale of liquor to consumers by producers, Smith said it could put the provincial Crown corporation out of business.

“If the province doesn’t have the authority it does today to retail product, I don’t think it would take long for producers to set up their own retail network,” he said.

Smith said NB Liquor has annual profits of about $165 million.

Comeau launched his constitutional challenge over whether he can buy cheaper beer in Quebec and bring it home.

“I’m a Canadian citizen, I should be able to buy my merchandise where ever I like,” he said outside the court.

Comeau was charged in an RCMP sting operation in October 2012 after he bought a dozen bottles of beer and three bottles of liquor in nearby Pointe-a-la-Croix, Que.

Constitutional lawyer Arnold Schwisberg says he will argue that Section 134 of the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act is unconstitutional.

That section says you can’t purchase or have liquor not purchased from NB Liquor, while Section 43 provides an exception for up to 12 pints of beer.

Schwisberg says Section 121 of the Constitution Act allows for the free entry of goods, produce and manufacture between provinces.

Karen Selick of the Canadian Constitution Foundation says regardless of how the New Brunswick court rules, there will likely be an appeal that could end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

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