Canadian Law Overview
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Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763.
The Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763 has been called the Magna Carta of Indian rights. In part, this Proclamation was intended to end the abuse which had marked dealings with Indians.
The Proclamation legally restricted any westward expansion of American colonies beyond the Appalachian Mountains. However, the Proclamation resulted in what some historians consider the first cause of the American Revolution. More...
The Quebec Act established that property and civil rights were to be resolved by reference to the French law that had been in force. The seigniorial land system is continued and calls for a council of 17 to 23 members to which the French are to enjoy access as members.
The Quebec Act also established that for criminal law, the law of England would apply. The Act also enlarged Quebec to include Labrador and the Roman Catholic population was guaranteed religious freedom.
The Quebec Act angered the Thirteen Colonies, and helped to accelerate the confrontation that became the American Revolution . The Quebec Act is listed as one of the grievances in the Declaration of Independence. The First Continental Congress petitioned Parliament to repeal the Intolerable Acts, which Parliament declined to do. Instead, in February 1775 Parliament passed the Conciliatory Resolution in an attempt to curry favor with the angry colonists. This was too little, too late, as the war broke out before news of its passage could reach the colonies.
The American Revolution had a profound effect on what would become Canada. United Empire Loyalists moved north after the war thus ultimately ensuring that Canada, for the majority of its territory, would be English speaking with English laws.
Simon Fraser is an example. He was born in New York, the son of loyalist parents. After the war his mother moved the family to Quebec. Simon Fraser joined the North West Company and made extensive and important discoveries in the west. He discovered a route to the Pacific Ocean in 1793. BC's largest river and Simon Fraser University in Burnaby are named after him.
Canada ultimately came to to occupy the largest land mass of North America.
England separated Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada by the Constitutional Act of 1791. The new legislature of Upper Canada (Ontario) used their first statute to reject French civil law and to introduce English common law and English rules of evidence.
Common law is judge-made law. That is, law which exists and applies to a group on the basis of historical legal precedents developed over hundreds of years. Because it is not written by elected politicians but, rather, by judges, it is also referred to as "unwritten" law. Judges seek these principles out when trying a case and apply the precedents to the facts to come up with a judgement.
Canada has a parliamentary system of government. The normal legislative process at the federal level is for the government to initiate public bills for approval by the elected House of Commons and the appointed Senate. When both Houses have passed a bill, the bill is submitted for Royal Assent to the Governor General or Deputy of the Governor General. Upon Royal Assent, the bill becomes an Act of Parliament.
Canada has both federal and provincial courts, but they do not constitute two separate systems as in the United States. For example, criminal laws are enacted by the Parliament of Canada, but the laws are administered mainly in provincial courts. Thus, provincial courts may hear cases involving both federal and provincial law. Each province has its own hierarchy of courts. The structure and names vary somewhat from one province to another.
The Supreme Court of Canada has been the final court of appeal since 1949. The Supreme Court has exclusive ultimate appellate civil and criminal jurisdiction within Canada. Appeal to the Supreme Court is normally by application for leave to appeal. The federal government may also refer constitutional cases directly to the Supreme Court.
The Federal Court of Canada continues the old Exchequer Court of Canada. It has both a Trial Division and a Federal Court of Appeal. The Federal Court's jurisdiction is limited; it does not have any diversity jurisdiction with the provincial superior courts, and it is not a parallel court structure to the provincial superior courts. Although in some matters, the Federal Court and the provincial courts have concurrent jurisdiction.
The Federal Court's principal areas of jurisdiction relate to cases arising out of decisions and orders of federal boards, commissions, and other tribunals, and to such matters as copyrights, patents, and inter-provincial railways.
Each Canadian province has superior courts of inherent jurisdiction. Depending on the province, the trial level courts may be called:
- the Supreme Court,
- the High Court of Justice, or
- the Court of Queen's Bench.
The appeal level may be called:
- the Court of Appeal or
- the Appellate Division.
Some provinces have county or district courts. Most provinces have established special divisions of the superior court at trial, such as the family division or small claims court.
The federal government has established special courts such as the Tax Court of Canada, the Court Martial Appeal Court, the Citizenship Court, and various boards and tribunals appointed under federal statutes.
Constitution Act - Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - 1982
Consolidated Statutes and Regulations - Many of these government sites have electronic access to their statutes and regulations.
Federal, Provincial and Territorial Courts - Some of the courts have electronic access to the text of court decisions.