A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision has upheld limits on interprovincial alcohol transportation, including between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
In April, Canada’s highest court upheld a ruling that allowed individual provinces and territories the right to restrict imports of certain goods. That often includes restrictions on province-to-province transport of alcohol.
Manitoba currently allows personal imports of wine and other alcohol, but there are limits for how much can be transported across the provincial border from Manitoba into Saskatchewan.
A person can bring as many as three litres of spirits, nine litres of wine and 24 litres of beer – the equivalent of around 12 six-pack cases – from Manitoba into Saskatchewan. If someone transports more, they’re in violation of provincial statutes.
“That would be an offence under the Liquor Control Act,” said Flin Flon RCMP Sgt. Mark Svaren.
There is no standard limit for alcohol brought from Saskatchewan into Manitoba.
Brewers and alcohol companies have cried foul about the rules in the past, claiming it restricts market potential and shuts off shipping to some areas. In the north, however, there is a key reason why the limit is not only in place, but actively enforced. Third-party sales and bootlegging can still be found in small, isolated communities throughout the Canadian north.
“We have had instances in the past where people have exceeded the amount they’re allowed to transport, especially in cases when it’s suspected to be more than for personal consumption,” said Svaren.
“People would bring large quantities of alcohol in Flin Flon into Saskatchewan exceeding the amount allowed by law.”
As a regional hub city located on a provincial border with disparities in alcohol costs between Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Flin Flon often ends up as a base for black market alcohol sales. People – often Saskatchewan residents, since many forms of alcohol are cheaper in Manitoba – can buy alcohol in bulk, transport it to remote communities and sell it for a profit.
Last year, a cooperative effort between multiple RCMP detachments in northern Saskatchewan, including Creighton, ended with seven people charged with bootlegging and alcohol seizures with an estimated street value of over $13,000.
“Where we’ll deal with that is with bootleggers who will buy it in Manitoba cheaper, then bring it into Saskatchewan. We would seize large quantities in Saskatchewan, but you only have to do that once or twice before learn not to do that,” said Creighton RCMP Sgt. Sean McPhee.
“The issue there was that, in surrounding communities, alcohol is such a big factor in crime statistics. To remove the bootlegging issue, that prevents a lot of crimes and a lot of people being hurt. Since Creighton is part of our cluster, we’re enlisted to help out.”
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