On Oct. 16, 2004, an unprecedented number of Nova Scotians voted on whether to allow Sunday shopping. In Halifax, 51 per cent said yes; province-wide, 55 per cent said no. The binding plebiscite made Nova Scotia the only Canadian province to reject Sunday shopping.

Small businesses and services with less than 4,000 square feet (270 square metres) of retail space could still open.

Prior to the plebiscite, Pete Luckett had already divided his large market, Pete’s Frootique, into several separate businesses under the same roof. In 1999, a judge ruled that he was not breaking the law.

Then Shoppers Drug Mart, began selling food items and the grocery chains complained to the province. The government responded with new regulations, effective March 1, 2006, limiting the grocery section of pharmacies to 2,000 square feet. Sobeys (a national chain based in Nova Scotia) and Atlantic Superstore (Loblaws) were still dissatisfied and adopted Luckett’s strategy.

Superstore opened portions of its now-divided downtown Halifax store on Sunday June 11; it said it was a “wild success.” The next Sunday, Sobeys opened six stores around the province.

The government quickly amended the law, retroactive to June 1, 2006. Large stores are not allowed to divide themselves into smaller businesses.

The fine for non-compliance is $15,000, but on July 2, Superstore opened anyway. Following a complaint, police attended to determine whether charges will be laid. No decision had yet been made as of press time.

On July 6, Sobeys announced that it will challenge the amendment in court.

Halifax Chamber of Commerce president Valerie Payn commended the two chains for challenging the Sunday shopping law. Conservative Premier Rodney MacDonald and anti–shopping protestors say the stores are observing the letter of the law, but violating its spirit and intent.

In Antigonish, Alexander MacDonald says, “If the regulations are not being fairly implemented and enforced, I can understand why the grocery stores are upset. But their actions show a complete scorn for the democratic right of Nova Scotians to decide on the issue.” A lawyer, he is president of the Antigonish chapter of Catholic Civil Rights League. Tony Lohnes, a founder of the group Save Our Sundays, noted, “Everybody needs a day to spend with their families,and it’s hard to do if you have stores open seven days a week.”

Premier MacDonald promises the government will do everything in its power to ensure the results of the plebiscite are respected, but another vote on the issue will be held in the fall of 2008.

Meantime, some shoppers like the option of getting their groceries on Sunday. One woman said, “I wanted to make a (deliberate) point that I was shopping on Sunday. Everybody goes Sunday shopping in Toronto. Our family morals weren’t affected.”

The writer of a letter to the editor to one paper saw it differently: “Sunday closure reminds society that there is more to life than working and shopping.”

Deacon Bob Britton, a Halifax member of an anti-shopping coalition, says, “The issue is not whether Sunday shopping is good or evil. It’s whether we are to be valued primarily in terms of our capacity to consume. That would be to sell ourselves far too short. We are more than consumers or the means of production or limited by our economic value.”

He goes on to speak about the importance of the “pause from our labours” that has traditionally been Sunday in our culture. “We are blessed in our God-given humanity, to be allowed to help give life to others and so give life to ourselves. Giving life to others comes more in the time we spend together honouring those with whom we gather. It is something no one can do alone. It is something that, if not supported by the community, will be quickly lost. Then we will truly become slaves of the economy.”

Sunday Shopping by Province
British Columbia         1984
Alberta                    1984
Saskatchewan          1984
Manitoba                 1993
Ontario                   1992
Quebec                   1993
New Brunswick          2004
Nova Scotia             Restricted
P E I                       Gradually relaxed laws; some restrictions still apply
Newfoundland &  Labrador               1998