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Ontario directs LCBO to pull Russian products from shelves

·4 min read
Toronto, Canada- March 02, 2018: LCBO store Shops at Don Mills in Toronto. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is a Crown corporation that retails and distributes alcoholic beverages in Ontario
The Ontario Liberals are calling on the LCBO to pull Russian alcohol from its shelves. (Getty)

The Ontario government will direct the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), one of the biggest buyers of booze in the world, to pull Russian alcohol from its shelves in response to the country's invasion of Ukraine.

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said in a statement posted to Twitter that the provincial government will direct the LCBO to withdraw all products produced in Russia from store shelves.

"Ontario joins Canada's allies in condemning the Russian government's act of aggression against the Ukrainian people," he said.

According to the LCBO website's product listings, the crown corporation sells seven spirits that are under the "Russia" category (including Russian Standard Vodka, Russian Standard Gold Vodka, Beluga Russian Luxury Vodka, Legend of Kremlin Vodka and Nemiroff Cranberry Brandy) and one beer (Baltika).

The decision came after the Ontario Liberals called on the LCBO to pull Russian alcohol from its shelves in response to the attack on Ukraine.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca wrote in a letter to LCBO chief executive George Soleas urging the crown corporation to halt commerce with Russia until it withdraws its troops from Ukraine.

"I urge you to remove all Russian-made products from your shelves until this Russian aggression ends," Del Duca wrote.

"The federal government has issued sanctions. Canadian businesses are cutting ties with Russian companies. It's time for Ontario to stand up to Russia and do more."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford confirmed earlier Friday afternoon that the government was considering a ban on Russian products at the LCBO.

"It wasn't the Liberals. We were discussing this yesterday with the Finance Minister," Ford said at a press conference on Friday.

"In saying that, it's a very, very small part... What's important is making sure we expedite the process to get as many people from Ukraine that have fled to other countries, predominantly Poland, to come here and make sure that they are welcome."

The LCBO, which operates more than 660 retail stores across the province and sells alcohol from more than 80 countries, is one of the largest buyers of alcohol in the world. It reported $6.8 billion in sales in 2020, a 5.9 per cent increase from 2019, with imported spirits accounting for $1.4 billion of those sales. Net income in 2020 hit $2.4 billion, up 5.6 per cent from the previous year.

While the LCBO sells several Russian spirit brands, the country is not in the top 10 for spirit sales by value, according to the crown corporation's 2020 annual report.

The LCBO has not responded to a request for comment.

The Ontario Liberal Party is not alone in its call to pull Russian booze off liquor store shelves.

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the head of the Parti Quebecois, urged the Quebec provincial government's Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) to boycott Russian products in response to the attacks on Ukraine.

The Manitoba Liquor Mart, which operates 63 retail locations throughout the province, says on Twitter that it has pulled the only two products it sells that come from Russia, including Russian Standard Vodka and Baltika beer.

But it is unclear what impact a boycott would have on Russian producers.

In 2013, many bars in North America launched a boycott of Russian alcohol in response to the country's crackdown on the gay community. However, the boycott, which targeted Stolichnaya vodka, ended up impacting a Latvian distiller, according to a report from the Associated Press.

On Thursday, the federal government unveiled a new package of sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Ottawa says it will cancel all export permits to Russia, impacting $700 million worth of permits in a move that will hit the aerospace, technology and minerals sectors.

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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