Perhaps by now you’ve heard that Bill C-311 has been passed into law. If so, you might be wondering what it changes for both the wine industry and you, the consumer. You’re not alone. There is a lot of confusion over the bill, and how it affects Canadians and their ability to import wine from other provinces. The whole thing should have been cut and dried, but one part of the bill has left the door open for interpretation and clouded the issue. Here’s the skinny:
Bill C-311 was introduced last October by Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas as a private member’s bill; Albas has a number of owners of B.C. wineries among his constituents who were keen to ship their wines around the nation.
The intent was to amend a section of the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which made it illegal for consumers to transport wine purchased in one province to another, or for wineries to ship directly to consumers in another province. This law was enacted to prevent booze shipments into provinces that were under prohibition at the time. The amendment to the act set forth in Bill C-311 allows interprovincial importation of wine for personal use — here’s what it says: “...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.”
The bill sailed through the House of Commons, receiving unanimous approval on June 6, and has subsequently become law.
But what does this actually mean? Well, if they left out the bit about “in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province” it would allow any Canadian to pick up the phone and order wine from any winery or any wine shop in the country and have it shipped to their home. What a concept.
But since they left it up to “the laws of the province,” it doesn’t really mean much; at least not yet. So now the provinces have busied themselves to set their new laws. Of course this leaves the door open for them to set small “personal consumption” limits that completely tear out the spirit of the bill. Can you guess which ones are going to set the smallest limits? You got it, B.C. and Ontario have already made statements to the effect that they will limit shipments to a single case, and B.C. even went on to say that you would need to carry it on your person, even though the law clearly states otherwise.
Currently, the provincial liquor boards and their national association, the Canadian Association of Liquor Jurisdictions, are meeting to discuss just what the provinces are going to do. So far, Alberta and Manitoba have embraced the law, no exemptions at all. So we are free to bring in all we want from our favourite B.C. and Ontario wineries, at least for now.
The big question for me is how are they going to police it? The truth is, wineries from B.C. have been freely shipping wine to Alberta for years, in complete defiance of federal law. Who’s going to stop them now?