The Long and Winding Road to Free Our Grapes: Cross-Border Shopping and Shipping of Canadian Wine – By Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski  WineAlign Feature Critic and ReviewerFederal-provincial jurisdictional issues are not usually on the minds of most Canadians while they savour a glass of wine. However, over the past few months, wine commentary has been intermingled with discussions on the right to sell and ship wine across provincial boundaries by Canadian wineries and consumers alike. Domestic, international and social media have been aflutter with comments about Bill C 311, An Act to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (interprovincial importation of wine for personal use). 

There has been much speculation as to what, when and how Bill C 311 will alter both a winery’s right to ship wine to consumers in another province, as well as the ability of consumers to legally transport wine inter-provincially.

Some of the stories on the issue have been simplistic and silly, as in a recent network TV item that had MPs blind tasting and guessing the wine’s origin. Others have been riddled with inaccuracies  – i.e. the first reading of a Bill does not make it law; or how it easier to ship wine Texas than to Quebec; and how “Canadians are set to solve their wine shipping dilemma in one fell swoop”…..

The Facts 

Here is an overview of where Bill C311 came from, the current process, and what it could mean for both the wine industry and Canadian wine consumers.

Bill C 311 was introduced last October by Okanagan Coquihalla Member of Parliament Dan Albas as a Private Member’s Bill. Albas has a large number of British Columbia wineries within kilometres of this constitutency office.

The intent of this Bill is to amend a section of the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which currently makes it illegal for consumers to transport wine, beer or spirits purchased in one province to another, or for wineries to ship directly to consumers in another province. The amendment set forth in Bill C 311 would allow the interprovincial importation of wine for personal use only, specifically:

h) the importation of wine from a province by an individual, if the individual brings the wine or causes it to be brought into another province, in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province, for his or her personal consumption, and not for resale or other commercial use.

Although not a Government-sponsored bill, the Minister of National Revenue, Gail Shea, announced government support for Bill C 311, stating that the current law was stifling the growth of the Canadian wine industry. The Bill sailed through the House of Commons receiving unanimous, all party approval on June 6, then it breezed through second reading in the Senate on June 11.

The Bill has now been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, with hearings on the Bill set for June 13th at 4pm.

Although this is the same Committee that is studying the omnibus Budget Bill, C -38,  the wheels of government appear to be moving quickly so wine lovers can be hopeful for a timely review, and perhaps Royal Assent, for upcoming summer months.

What will change with Bill C 311?

Once the Bill passes, it will no longer be a federal, criminal offence for individual consumers to transport wine from one province to another in Canada. According to Dan Albas “federally the Bill is clear that it is no longer in contravention of IILA to directly transport or ship wine (and cider) across provincial borders”.

However, once the Bill becomes law, provinces would still have jurisdiction over and be responsible for determining the amount of wine that can be shipped into their province or brought in with their residents. Provinces and liquor boards in Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia have stated that they will allow a personal exemption of one case of wine (9 litres) to be brought “on your person” into the province.

Many wineries and consumers see this restriction to one case as contrary to the “spirit” of  Bill C-311 and are calling for freer and open access once the Bill becomes law.

Currently, the majority of Canadian wines (85% and higher depending on the province and winery) are sold through the winery as opposed to liquor boards or wine stores, as this provides the maximum possible financial return and profit margin for wineries and because some of the smaller wineries do not have the economies of scale to have national distribution or in export markets.

So direct to consumer shipments from on-line orders, as well as purchases made by wine tourists, would strengthen and provide another, alternative sales channel for wineries, as well as increased opportunities for other companies in the value-chain, like couriers and shipping companies, which been very supportive of Bill C 311.

If and when provinces allow personal exemption limits, Canadian consumers will have greater choice and access to wines from across Canada.

How Will the Provinces Respond?

The provincial liquor boards and their national association, the Canadian Association of Liquor Jursidictions, have been meeting in Quebec City over the past few days and have been discussing what they and the provinces will do.

According to the testimony by Rowland Dunning, executive director of Canadian Association of Liquor Jurisdictions to the House of Commons Finance Committee this April, “The impact on our businesses and provincial revenues from allowing direct sales could be substantial “.

It may happen that provincial governments come out in favour of a unified approach, with a similar personal exemption limit for all e-commerce shipments across Canada, or that interprovincial purchases be limited to that brought back home with wine tourists.

One thing that is certain is that further dialogue is needed among governments and their constituents, so that the measures that are put in place reflect the needs and desires of both consumers and the industry.

In an unprecedented move and show of support by wine lovers, the weekly #BCWineChat on Twitter will be #FreeMyGrapes on Wednesday, June 13, so that those across wineries and consumers across Canada can tweet with the hashtag #FreeMyGrapes to show their support for Bill C 311 and the need for implementation measures to make it easier to order wine from across Canada.

Other notable details about Bill C-311.

According to the legislative definition of “wine”, as summarized in a recent Library of Parliament paper on Bill C 311 for the purposes of the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, the definition is not restricted to wine but will extend to cider, hard lemonade and wine coolers.

It would not however, apply to craft brewers or distillers, which have left some in the industry wondering why the Bill only includes some Canadian beverage alcohol products.

The Bill will also not extend to purchases made by restaurants, though the Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association issued an open letter to Members of Parliament, applauding Bill C311 as a good first step though stating that they are ” concerned that the amendment does not go far enough and we urge you to also exempt wine purchased by restaurants”. (

Bill C311 becoming law is only the first step to freeing our grapes and making Canadian wines more widely accessible for all to try.

WineAlign is vitally interested in this issue. We already have 100s of reviews of Canadian wines that are not easily available in local liquor boards, and as Bill C311 expands the reach of Canadian wines, we will be there with professional reviews to help you buy wisely.