Density of on- and off-premises alcohol outlets: Provincial and territorial regulation of availability of alcohol

Learn about how provincial and territorial governments can limit the number of outlets where alcohol is sold

Inside this alcohol policy pack

Density of on- and off-premises alcohol outlets

Regulate commercial and public availability of alcohola,1,2,3,4

Limit density of on- and off-premises alcohol outletsb,1,3,4

Degree of adoption in Canada

Current actions in Canada
Adoption of evidence-informed policy action related to limiting alcohol outlet density across Canada is low. Locations of retail and licensed premises for the sale and service of alcohol must be approved by alcohol-control governing bodies, but clear and defined outlet density requirements across provinces and territories is lacking. Bring Your Own alcohol and re-corking policies, as well as off-sales of alcohol in licensed establishments increases alcohol-outlet density, providing additional access.

A few provinces like Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia, outline location requirements within legislation, but they only apply to some types of alcohol outlets, for example:

  • Prince Edward Island requires new agency store locations to have a large enough population base, and the absence of an existing store. It also prohibits agencies from being operated on the premises of a motel, hotel, licensed establishment or restaurant, or in areas where minors tend to congregate.
  • British Columbia allows that a holder of a license to sell and serve liquor may attain an off-premise sales endorsement, where patrons can purchase bottled alcohol, if the premises is at least 30m km from a liquor store, licensee retail store or is a brewpub.
  • Nova Scotia requires ferment-on-premises locations be kept separate from other premises used for different purposes.

Most provinces and territories also require citizen input or support for the establishment of new alcohol retail outlets, which may impact outlet density where citizen support is lacking.

In Nunavut and Northwest Territories, communities participate in a plebiscite to choose their preferred alcohol system – unrestricted, restricted (limited quantities to purchase), committee (an elected alcohol-education committee decides who may purchase, consume and transport liquor etc.), and prohibition. As a result, many communities in the territories have no alcohol retail outlets present, and those that do exist are dispersed, limiting access to alcohol.

All provinces and territories except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nunavut, allow patrons to bring their own wine (and in some cases beer) to a licensed establishment to consume on the premises and, or take home the remainder of unconsumed wine bought at the establishment. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon also permit off-sales in certain licensed establishments, where patrons can purchase unopened bottles of alcohol for off-premise consumption.

New Brunswick, Québec, Ontario and British Columbia allow for the sale of alcohol in grocery stores, with varied restrictions, and Québec allows for the sale of alcohol in convenience stores.

Nova Scotia, Québec (except beer), Ontario and Alberta allow for the sale of liquor online, providing home delivery and in-store pickup options. Newfoundland and Labrador allow for the purchase of fine wine online with in-store pickup options.

1- World Cancer Research Fund International (2009). Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention. Retrieved from:
2- World Health Organization (2013). Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases. Retrieved from:
3- Cancer Care Ontario (2016). Prevention System Quality Index. Retrieved from:
4- Public Health Ontario/Cancer Care Ontario (2012). Taking Action to Prevent Chronic Disease. Retrieved from:
a- Community Preventive Services Task Force (2009) Systematic Review: Alcohol – Excessive Consumption: Maintaining Limits on Hours of Sale
b- Community Preventive Services Task Force (2007) Systematic Review: Alcohol – Excessive Consumption: Regulation of Alcohol Outlet Density