Almost within sight of Parliament Hill on the Quebec side of the river, there’s a slightly-shabby but always-busy store where a law now headed for the Supreme Court is broken dozens of times every day.
Hundreds of cases of cheap suds and wine pour out of Beer King in Gatineau into the open trucks of party-planning buyers from Ottawa.
Not that I’m an illegal importer of Beer King product (because I always get someone else to do it), but the savings from a Quebec booze purchase can exceed $10 per case, which makes it particularly economical to buy in thirsty-quenching bulk.
Combined with the area’s Costco, it’s one of the biggest smuggling operations in Canada - and it’s hidden in plain sight.
Anyone bringing more than a couple cases of beer or a dozen bottles of wine across the Ottawa River is breaking the law.
And this isn’t a one-off.
Free-flowing trade in beer, wine and spirits stops at all provincial boundaries, except Alberta and Manitoba.
So it’s with considerable relief we learned today that our Constitutional right to challenge provincial liquor and beer retailing monopolies through interprovincial competition is heading to the Supreme Court for its final showdown.
This hearing was driven by a New Brunswick man who decided the quota law was an ass and openly imported more than his allowable limit from Quebec. It was a deliberate provocation.
And it worked like a charm.
Now heading into the legal realm from which there is no further appeal, the justices have the power to undo a nation’s entire history of erecting artificial barriers to shelter government-run retailers which engage in gouging consumers.
Let’s hope the court sides with common sense and the Constitution because this supposedly free-trade-crazed federal government specifically excluded alcohol from last month’s open-border agreement.
The prime minister and the premiers need a legal kick in the pants to avoid the very real possibility that legalized marijuana will beat booze to free travel across provincial lines.
But until common sense prevails, Beer King and others like it will be a retail kingdom for bargain hunters who see a ridiculous law that’s driving them to drink – and don’t really care if the suds come from another province.
That’s the Last Word.