It has been almost three months since the IILA amendment creating a personal consumption exemption for wine in the 1928 prohibition era legislation preventing the interprovincial shipment of wine in addition to other intoxicating beverages. So, with three months under the federal legislation’s proverbial belt, here is my question to you: do you think it is now legal for you to bring as much wine as you want into whatever Canadian province? I’ve been told by wine club managers that when they are asked by consumers if they can legally ship a case of wine anywhere in Canada, they say “yes”! It seems like it should be so simple, but when you look deeper into the legislation, the true answer to my question is not found in the IILA.
In my upcoming Orchard and Vine column, I ask the question “have the grapes really been freed?” Some of you may find the column a bit heavy because I discuss the law more so than in my previous articles, but a key point I make (at least I hope I make) is that the IILA amendment creates interplay between federal and provincial liquor laws. What I mean is this: to figure out if and how the personal consumption exemption applies to you in whatever province you want to import into, you need to look at the laws in that province. Have I lost you? In a nutshell, the IILA amendment says that the personal consumption exemption applies if you comply with the laws of the province you are importing to. Let’s say that I live in Saskatchewan and I have just finished an awesome trip in BC…I’ve bought 33 bottles of wine (about 25L). I am driving back home with 33 bottles and I joined my new favorite BC wine club which is going to ship me 2 cases a year. I am feeling pretty confident that I am not breaking the law because of the IILA amendment. What do you think? Am I breaking the law by driving my wine into Saskatchewan? What about by having my wine club ship my wine to me?
The short answer is yes, I am breaking the law. How can that be? Well, as I noted, it goes back to the interplay between federal and provincial law. To fall within the personal consumption exemption, I need to comply with the laws of Saskatchewan (the province I am importing into). The law in Saskatchewan limits the amount of wine that a person can “bring” into Saskatchewan to 1.14 litres. So, the IILA amendment doesn’t help me in that situation. I am breaking the law by driving my wine into Saskatchewan because I have too much. When my wine club ships to me, both my winery and I run afoul of the law because the wording of the Saskatchewan legislation is narrow and probably doesn’t include direct to consumer shipping (oh, and the shipping of a case of wine is also over the 1.14L mark).
The moral of my story is the IILA amendment is a significant achievement; but, whether you are a consumer or a producer, do not be romanticized by the idea that the provincial importation of wine for personal consumption is perfectly fine, bar none. You need to look to the provincial legislation to see what rules apply. In true lawyer fashion, let me end by telling you to see your lawyer and get legal advice regarding your personal situation and the applicable law (note: my comments about the Saskatchewan law should be reviewed with your lawyer as this blog is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice).