Free My Grapes: Ontario Sequel on Shipping Wine Across Borders

by Susan Desjardins

In June 2012, Bill C-311, presented by Dan Albas, MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, received royal assent just before the House of Commons rose for the summer. Why do we care?  Laws governing the transport and sale of alcohol across provincial boundaries dated back to 1928 and the Prohibition Era.

Until the passage of Bill C-311 by unanimous vote of the House, it was a criminal offense to take or ship wine across provincial boundaries. Talk to European winemakers about this and they just shake their heads – “How can this be? You are one country, are you not! In Europe there is no issue shipping wine across national boundaries. We don’t understand why there is an issue in Canada!”  The goal of Bill C-311 was to remedy this situation by making legal:

“The importation of wine from a province by an individual, if the individual brings the wine or causes it to be brought into another province, in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province, for his or her personal consumption, and not for resale or other commercial use.”

FreeMyGrapes, in the person of Shirley-Ann George, was a driving force behind the Bill and its successful passage by the House. So we’re celebrating, right! Not so fast as Shirley-Ann explained at a recent presentation to the National Capital Sommelier Guild. Read that excerpt again—‘as permitted by the laws of the latter province’.

Manitoba and British Columbia have essentially moved to respect the spirit of the law, allowing ordering and shipping of wine across their boundaries. Credit for BC changing its laws within two weeks of the passage of Bill C-311 goes to the many BC wine lovers and wineries that ensured this issue was front and centre on the political agenda for more than a year. However, monopolies such as the LCBO and SAQ, who actively lobbied against C-311, have yet to clarify their positions.

While provincial law in Ontario is silent with respect to the importation or possession of wine from other provinces, the LCBO has issued a ‘policy statement’ restricting wine imports to in-person transport only. While this policy statement probably has no legal effect, there are stiff penalties for violation of Ontario liquor laws – for the individual, fines of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year. Why should you have to take this risk?

This brings us to Bill 117, introduced as a Private Member’s Bill by Rob Milligan, Conservative MPP from Northumberland – Quinte West, to the Ontario Legislature at the end of August 2012. While the prorogation of the Ontario legislature means the bill has died, Milligan has committed to reintroduce the bill when the parliament resumes. So it’s still worthy of our consideration.  A summary follows:

“The Bill amends the Liquor Control Act to add a provision that permits individuals who are 19 years of age or older to import or cause to be imported wine into Ontario from another province if the wine is for their personal consumption and not for resale or other commercial use. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s powers do not apply to wine imported by an individual in accordance with that provision. The Government of Ontario is required to encourage the parties to the Agreement on Internal Trade to implement or amend measures to allow for the free movement of wine within Canada.

A progress report must be tabled in the Legislative Assembly within three months after the Bill comes into force and every six months thereafter.

Similar provisions are added with respect to the importation of beer from other provinces. Those provisions only apply if the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (Canada) authorizes the inter-provincial importation of beer. “

FreeMyGrapes is working with the Canadian Vintners’ Association, among other groups, to support the passage of this Bill. We need the same type of all-party unanimous support for this Bill as that given for Bill C-311 at the federal level. Given that MPP Milligan is a member of the opposition party, it may take even more support from Ontario wine lovers to win the day!  There’s nothing like concerned wine-consuming citizens making their opinions known to their MPPs to ensure the appropriate level of awareness, understanding and attention to this matter.

If you want the opportunity to order wine from British Columbia, Nova Scotia, or any other province into Ontario,  FreeMyGrapes encourages you and your friends/colleagues to first write your MPP asking her/him to vote in favour of Bill 117 or a similar bill that makes it legal for Ontarians to buy and ship wine across provincial borders for personal consumption.   A sample letter and links that will help you find your MPP’s address can be found at FreeMyGrapes.ca. Tweeters can get updates on progress by following @FreeMyGrapes. The website is also a good source of information on what is happening in both Ontario and across Canada on this important matter.

It’s time to put an end to the outdated prohibition era laws that punish Canadians for buying great Canadian wines.

Together we can finally FreeMyGrapes!

 

Susan Desjardins has been involved with the marketing and promotion of wines for the last seven years, as an accredited sommelier.  In addition to organizing and hosting both public and private wine and food events, she has participated in the LCBO’s Vintages release tastings for the last two years.

An Algonquin College-trained sommelier and avid amateur ‘foodie’, Susan spends her spare time traveling in Western Europe and the wine regions of Canada meeting winemakers, vineyard owners and other wine industry personalities.

Her background in business, horticulture and wine has created a broad interest in and familiarity with the diverse aspects of the industry.  She seeks value and quality in wine tasting, and looks forward to introducing people to varietals and wines with which they may not yet be familiar.

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