August 30, 2006 by Joseph Krohn
Sobeys and Atlantic Superstore are in court Wednesday to challenge Nova Scotia’s attempt to prevent more stores from opening on Sunday. The grocery chains claim the provincial government has exceeded its authority and that its new Sunday shopping regulations are arbitrary and unfair.
The province tightened the rules on Sunday shopping in June by forbidding retailers from subdividing stores into smaller businesses, which Sobeys and Superstore had done to get around size restrictions. In Nova Scotia, stores with more than 4,000 square feet of retail space are not allowed to open on Sundays, unlike boutiques, specialty stores and pharmacies. Bedford grocer Pete Luckett subdivided his Pete’s Frootique store in 1999, but Sobeys and Superstore only followed suit in June.
The two grocery giants were accused of violating the spirit of the Sunday shopping ban, and the government stepped in to close the loophole. Premier Rodney MacDonald said the results of the 2004 plebiscite on Sunday shopping had to be respected. In a close vote, Nova Scotians chose to maintain the status quo. Sobeys launched the court challenge, while Superstore is intervening in the case. Neither company is commenting at this time.
The court case is of great interest to retailers in Nova Scotia, said Ross Haynes, the lawyer who successfully argued in 1999 that Pete’s Frootique could legally open. “Many people who make huge investments in our community, retail businesses, they probably want to see their businesses open as many days as possible to be more competitive and more profitable,” said Haynes. But he said this latest court challenge could end up tightening the Sunday shopping ban by erasing all exceptions. “If they’re successful and the court says the regulations are struck down in their entirety, it creates a lot of confusion because then you have to just read the act, and the act is pretty restrictive in what kind of businesses can be open,” Haynes said.