Wine industry baffled by B.C. response to federal liquor law

B.C. winery owners and wine lawyers say they are confused by the B.C. government's response to a federal bill that MPs passed last week to ...

B.C. winery owners and wine lawyers say they are confused by the B.C. government's response to a federal bill that MPs passed last week to allow Canadians to carry wine across provincial boundaries.

The federal bill still requires Senate approval and royal assent.

But that did not stop the B.C. government from issuing a press release saying that British Columbians can "now" import from other provinces:

  • nine litres of wine;
  • three litres of spirits; and
  • a combined total of 25.6 litres of beer, cider and coolers.

"The law hasn't been changed. It's still illegal. I don't think the B.C. government would be OK with me saying I'm not going to pay the HST any more because they intend to change the law," wine lawyer and Vintage Law Group partner Mark Hicken told Business in Vancouver June 8.

"A lot of winery owners are very confused. Nobody seems to understand what the province is doing."

Assuming that the government's policy becomes law and that British Columbians will be able to bring back nine litres of wine, which is a standard case, winemakers are disappointed.

Hicken said that is because they expected B.C. to allow a higher threshold because other provinces are likely to follow B.C.'s precedent when those provinces adapt importation limits for their residents.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards co-owner Sandra Oldfield was so disappointed with the province's low exemption limit that she started a Twitter conversation using the hashtag #thanksfornothing.

"Wow. A case of wine. Guess Terry David Mulligan should have carried two [cases] across the Alberta border," Oldfield tweeted to Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch.

Coleman did not respond to BIV's request for an interview by press time.

Mulligan set the ball rolling for the Canadian government to change the prohibition-era Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act by saying he was willing to go to jail to draw attention to what he considered an antiquated law.

He later carried a single case of wine across the B.C. border with Alberta but was not arrested.


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