This article on legislation is designed to be an educational one. The Canadian Homebrewers Association is not in the position to offer legal advice or recommendations to those in a situation that require legal assistance at this time. Our organization is simply trying to help others learn about the legalities of homebrewing in Canada by providing an overview, based on the research available at the time as interpreted by the writer. The CHA provides this information as is, with the writers/contributors doing their best to find the most accurate information available. It could be wrong, and if so we’d love to hear from you to help us make it right! Contact Scott to pass on any questions, corrections or concerns regarding the information provided. Please consult a lawyer if the need arises!
The Canadian Homebrewers Association is your organization, run by volunteers but driven by the membership. As a registered not-for-profit, you, the members, set the direction we will be taking, including the issues we should pursue (like how we elect governments to pursue the things we as citizens and voters decide). As the first board, we have some ideas that are a good starting point and the big one, for us anyway, is the issue of homebrewing in a legal sense. It’s one of those things that most people don’t really think about too much (nor should you, where’s the fun in that!), but as someone who has been involved in the hobby for almost a decade, it’s starting to wear on me.
In this series, I’ll be going through the various homebrewing legislation in each province and territory, so we’re all informed how homebrewing laws work across the country. Fair warning, I’m starting off with BC, as it’s the province I live in and know the most about, but we will definitely be working our way across Canada in the near future.
The rules around homebrewing are interesting, to say the least. Depending on where you live, they can either be a gray area that you can operate in as long as no one is looking to closely, or downright repressive and backwards. I’ve spoken to a few people across this country of ours and it’s no simple matter of hanging out and boiling some wort. Over time, our plan is to build up a knowledge base so we can see exactly what the rules are, then reach out and try to lobby the governing bodies for change. Stay tuned to our Legislation page to see what we’ve found, or if you want to help, please get a hold of me, Scott. I’d love some assistance with all of this legal-type stuff, especially in each province and territory! And if you know anyone who can help with lobbying, please let us know as well.
Homebrewing in Canada and BC is fine, with some exceptions. Do not sell it or serve it to anyone for any fee, and be sure to get a special occasion licence for any events that meet the requirements of the Liquor Act.
Intro to the Liquor Control Act
The legislation surrounding homebrewing is, generally, a provincial or territorial issue. The federal government of Canada has a few rules but these are simply an overall view of alcohol legislation on Canada. Each province has, much like health care or environment, their own rules surrounding alcohol, including but not limited to the manufacture, consumption, and disposal of alcohol. These rules are the more commonly enforced ones, as the chances of a federal investigation is much less likely than a local government one. Of course they happen, but in this first article we’ll be looking at the laws in British Columbia, my home province.
The Federal Excise Act covers the taxation law in Canada regarding alcohol production. Per this Act (the part we distill down and look at as homebrewers anyway), we are able to legally manufacture homemade beer for personal consumption, and “…shall not be levied or collected on beer that is made or brewed by any person for personal or family consumption or to be given away without charge and that is not for sale or commercial use.” And in the next section, “ Any apparatus used only for making or brewing beer in the circumstances described in subsection (1) is exempt from the provisions of this Act respecting the possession of brewing apparatus by unlicensed persons.” So according to Section 170-173 of the Act, federally, as long as we’re not selling our product, we’re in the clear.
Homebrew Legislation in BC
This suddenly becomes a little bit more murky when we look into our provincial or territorial rules. In BC, my favourite part from the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Act is Section 2:
“Nothing in this Act prevents
(a)a person who is not a minor from manufacturing wine or beer for consumption by the person or for consumption at no charge by other persons, the manufacture of which occurs
(i)in a place other than a public place, or
(ii)in an establishment in respect of which a licence of a prescribed class of licences is issued…”
Now, isn’t that interesting. You can, as stated, definitely make homebrewed beer or wine at home with no issue legally in BC. You can even serve it to your friends and family in your home. But, don’t leave your house with it. Homebrewing in BC is tolerated at best in my personal experience, and while holding homebrew competitions is legal you do require a Special Events Licence to do so. You can even serve it under a “Family” SEL to friends and family, like during a bachelor/bachelorette party, wedding, anniversary, birthday, retirement or memorial reception…as long as there is no fee charged. With the changes made to the Liquor Act in 2015 this has been made possible, contrary to popular belief. But homebrew club meetings where you can drink homemade products? Not outside of a private residence.
What isn’t mentioned is the enforcement aspect of it, and the Liquor Inspectors don’t really care about anything that doesn’t involve taxes (see the Excise Act of Canada to start, nevermind the people who actually enforce it). The belief is as long as it’s not being sold the enforcement is too much of a gray area and isn’t worth the time for the most part, but it’s still not outright legal to do so. There’s some room for exploration in this, and there have been a few events held legally in BC where home made products are served, but not enough to set a precedent or even tell people it okay. Someone will have to hold an event with a security plan, insurance, help from the beer industry to make it happen…it’s a big deal but should totally be doable.
Next month we’ll be covering the Northern region of Canada. The Northern representative, Shawn Paul Brennan, has spent a fair amount of time putting together a lot of information that will be great to sort through.
To making homebrewing more accessible and acceptable…