No wining: DJ flouts Prohibition-era wine law
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 13, 2011 7:30PM PDT
LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - There were no red-coated Mounties waiting to throw him in the hoosegow as a radio DJ and admitted wine lover symbolically flouted a liquor law that dates back to Prohibition.
Terry David Mulligan carried a briefcase of assorted B.C. red wine across the British Columbia-Alberta boundary Friday and with that simple act violated the federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act of 1928.
The law that was enacted to stop domestic bootlegging still stands 83 years later and bans all movement of liquor and wine over provincial boundaries unless authorized by the receiving province's liquor board.
"I have not taken this step across the border lightly. I am an ex-Mountie. This is about as uncomfortable as I have ever been in this situation," said Mulligan while a steady stream of traffic roared by on the Trans-Canada Highway.
"I firmly believe that the 1928 law is unconstitutional and that it purports to turn all Canadians who take Canadian wine across a provincial border ... into criminals.
"This is really hurting the small wineries of Canada," said Mulligan, 68, a radio personality, former MuchMusic VJ, TV host and actor.
"This is me letting the liquor boards in B.C. and Alberta know that I'm doing it because I believe that the law of 1928 is unconstitutional. I believe it makes criminals of all of us who do it, all of us who do it on a regular basis, semi-regular basis or have at least done it once in our lives."
Vancouver wine lawyer Mark Hicken, who specializes in liquor regulations, said the law should be abolished or amended. He said it isn't so much a problem for big wineries, which specialize in popular, reasonably priced wines.
But it throws mud in the eye of boutique wineries, which produce a more high-end product.
"The vast majority of wine, over 90 per cent, is consumed within a few hours of purchase," said Hicken. "Most people just go to the store and drink it with dinner. The direct consumer shipments from wineries will not touch that segment of the market at all," he said.
"The Okanagan is to the point where you've got a lot of wineries ... which are focusing on quality and really upping the bar. That segment of the market is what really depends on direct-to-consumer shipping because they need to be able to access larger markets.
"Right now their legal market is only customers in B.C. and if they want to ship to a customer in Toronto, they have to do it through the liquor board which is such a cumbersome process that it's not really workable."
Hicken favours a national, personal-use exemption that would allow wineries to sell directly online.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission said the legislation is not meant to target Joe Q. Public, although it is technically illegal to carry alcohol across provincial lines.
"Yes, the law is there and, yes, if you want to take it to the extreme, if you brought back some wine as a citizen you're violating the law," said commission spokeswoman Lynn Hutchings-Mah.
"We're not after the person who goes to B.C. and brings back some wine for their personal use. Our concern is if a business wants to do business in Alberta, we want them to do it legally.
"We're saying to the wineries if you want your product in Alberta, you can bring it in. Just do it through the legal channels."
Mulligan, who hosts a weekly radio show on wine, said there is no valid reason why there is any restriction between provinces.
"Why on earth are we having to go through this BS of going to a liquor board office and filling out forms to take wine from one province to another? It's not the 49th parallel. It's our own country.
"There's only one reason why it's there and it's cash flow."
Money does enter into it, said Hutchings-Mah. Alberta collects $700 million a year in liquor markups.
"For Alberta, yes, there are revenue implications. We collect a flat markup on liquor products based according to alcohol content. It goes into general revenues and that goes to fund government programs," she said.
Between 15 and 20 per cent of the $700 million comes from wine sales. That ranges from $105 million to $140 million a year.
There were no police officers waiting for Mulligan when he crossed the boundary.
"This is a planned event by an individual and we have no intention of being at the border to participate," said RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb.
"He's an individual who wants to make a point. Is there a public interest in pursuing this investigation or is it not in the public's interest to do it? That's what our consideration is."
Webb said there have been no arrests in Canada in the last year for violation of the law.
Mulligan said he hopes his publicity stunt draws attention to the problem.
"You can place the blame for this on the liquor control boards because they are ... talking to a select few people but not the wine business. It's time for them to sit down and talk to the wine business and work this out so we don't have to go through any of this BS again."