Saturday, June 07, 2008

Wine Leads To Criminal Activity

Is there anything more grasping and greedy than a government monopoly denied?

On my trip to California I truly enjoyed some marvelous foods and wines. Being a winemaker, I was naturally drawn to the tasting rooms and the wine lists that I encountered. Always, in the back room of my mind, there was a voice, "Even if you wanted this wine, you can't take it home."

Sure, I could actually take it home. But at the border, after clearing immigration, there would be customs. And customs is charged with collecting the cash that the government figures it is due. This is determined by whatever the provincial mark-up is on a particular product. If they don't actually have the product on their shelves then there is a formula to arrive on the 'proper' dollar figure.

"Surely," you say," you must be allowed something?" Yes, true, we are allowed something.

But no matter how long I stay, I am limited to 1.5 L of wine. That's two standard bottles. After 48 hours, I can bring $400 back in goods. But the wine volume stays the same. After 7 days, I can bring back $750 in goods. But the wine volume stays the same. It's all here in it's ridiculous splendour. If I only stay 24 hours then I have to pay the formula on everything.

The taxes, duty and mark-up or whatever euphemism you want to use is almost always in excess of 100% of your purchase price of the wine in Canadian dollars.

I have heard all the arguments for this kind of policy. Protectionism and public safety, control, maintaining the public coffers. Frankly, in this day and age, none of those tired old arguments are worth a thing.

What this policy leads to is the most elaborate and deceitful schemes by otherwise law-abiding citizens bent on getting a few extra bottles of wine or liquor back into the country. We're not talking about truckloads. We're talking about a half dozen or a case of something special, often not available at home, something that was picked up on vacation or on a business trip.

I know it may be necessary to draw the line somewhere, but this country has turned into a country of amateur smugglers. With the dollar virtually at par with its American counterpart, I imagine there's plenty of temptation.

Hell, I know there is. Here's what I had to do.

After 11 days in the U.S. I settled on 8 bottles of wine and not the 8 cases I really wanted. Sorry, U.S. wine sellers. I put two into my luggage. The other six I packaged and sent to a Washington state border town about 1 hour from my home. Good thing you can ship from California to Washington. I told the UPS guys on Sutter in San Francisco it was olive oil anyways and we all had a good laugh.

Today it arrived. My wife went and picked it up. She drove it to within 400 meters of the border and dropped in on my Mom and step Dad (Canadian citizens) at their lakeside summer place. There she gave them each two bottles and appropriate receipts. They had been stateside for 48 hours so they were entitled to two bottles free of border charges.

The other two bottles are stashed in the crawlspace of the cabin. Tomorrow my people will drive back across the line and into Canada with my wine I will meet them at the donut shop in Osoyoos before they head home. There, in the parking lot like a gathering of of criminals, I will accept the goods.

My next plan: I'm going to head south again soon. I'll stay for at least 48 hours and I'll buy two bottles of wine worth $400 together that are not available in BC. Then I'll bring them back and dispose of them as I see fit.

Tsk. Just sad behaviour I'm capable of. Almost as sad as a monopoly so fearful of revenue loss from cross border purchases that it has to impose these draconian rules on the masses. Isn't it time we used our overworked Border Service to protect our citizens from pedophiles, armed criminals and other threats to society? Isn't it time to stop searching Joe and Mary Sixpack's luggage and car for that extra bottle of White Zin?

I think so and so do a lot of my fellow Canadians.

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