Principles of Interpretation

From Criminal Law Notebook
This page was last substantively updated or reviewed June 2021. (Rev. # 89468)

General Principles

The purpose of statutory interpretation is to "ascertain legislative intent."[1]

The nature of drafting means that legislatures "do not always speak clearly."[2]

Original vs Purposive Meaning

The wording in a statute "must be construed as they would have been the day after the statute was passed."[3] This is because the words required context to understand and that context must be what existed at the time of the enactment.[4]

Where the wording is "scientific or technical" then broad interpretation would "do violence" to the intent of Parliament.[5]

However, not all terms in statutes are "confined to their original meanings" and may be "capable of growth and development to meet changing circumstances". "Statutory categories" will include things that are not known at the time of passing the law. Similarly, language that is "broad or open-textured" will also be capable of such changes.[6]

There are limitations to "purposive interpretation". Courts cannot choose to do what was not enacted. Bad or outdated policy is properly remedied by Parliament not the courts.[7]

Legislative Purpose

The purpose of a law can be inferred from legislative statements, text of the law in context, extrinsic evidence such as legislative history and evolution, and previous judicial pronouncements.[8]

The objectives of an enactment are not permitted to shift over time and new objects cannot be introduced by courts after-the-fact.[9]

Regardless of whether the law is ambiguous, the court must always consider the law's purpose and relevant context.[10] But this is particularly important when the provision is reasonably capable of multiple interpretations.[11]

The plain meaning of a word or phrase is not determinative as "[w]ords that appear clear and unambiguous may in fact prove to be ambiguous once placed in their context."[12]

Inferences into purpose of a scheme may be made from "examining the relationship among provisions" to determine the "overall plan" of the Act. This includes considering what each provision contributes towards the goal of the legislature.[13]

The purpose of an Act can be used as an interpretive guide whereby interpretations that promote rather than defeat the purpose should be preferred.[14]

Legislative debates can inform the interpretation process but cannot override specific text of the legislation.[15]

Judicial Restraint

Judges are not entitled to "meddle" or refuse to enforce law absent Charter violation. They cannot use back-doors or skew reasons to get outcomes they want or promote policies they prefer.[16]

  1. R v Dineley, 2012 SCC 58 (CanLII), [2012] 3 SCR 272, per Deschamps J (4:3), at para 44 ("Statutory interpretation aims to ascertain legislative intent, which is a shorthand reference to the intention which the court reasonably imputes to Parliament in respect of the language used... . The courts ascertain legislative intent by reading legislative language in context and in its grammatical and ordinary sense, harmoniously with the scheme and purpose of the legislation at issue:..." [quotation marks and citations omitted])
  2. McLean v. British Columbia (Securities Commission), 2013 SCC 67 (CanLII), [2013] 3 SCR 895, at para 32
  3. R v Perka, 1984 CanLII 23 (SCC), [1984] 2 SCR 232, per Dickson J, at pp. 264 to 265 ("The doctrine of contemporanea expositio is well established in our law. “The words of a statute must be construed as they would have been the day after the statute was passed…")
    cf. R v Brady, 1998 ABCA 7 (CanLII), 121 CCC (3d) 504, per Cote JA, at para 7 ("Courts should interpret legislation purposively and contextually. The court should look at their context, overall wording, apparent legislative scheme, and the evil aimed at (where the latter is admissible). For example, what if the wording of a statute is reasonably open to two interpretations, only one of which will advance the general legislative scheme, is workable, and will not cause any injustice? The court will probably choose the workable and fair interpretation.")
  4. Perka, ibid., at pp. 264 to 265 ("Since a statute must be considered in the light of all circumstances existing at the time of its enactment it follows logically that words must be given the meanings they had at the time of enactment, and the courts have so held")
    R v DWL, 2016 SCC 22 (CanLII), [2016] 1 SCR 402, per Cromwell J
  5. DWL, ibid., at para 61
  6. DWML, ibid., at para 61 ("The Court noted that not all terms in all statutes must always be confined to their original meanings. Broad statutory categories are often held to include things unknown when the statute was enacted and words in constitutional documents must be capable of growth and development to meet changing circumstances. However, that interpretative approach is most often taken when the statutory language is broad or open-textured. ")
  7. Krayzel Corp. v Equitable Trust Co., 2016 SCC 18 (CanLII), [2016] 1 SCR 273, per Brown J (6:3), at para 32 ("[Courts] cannot “do by ‘interpretation’ what Parliament chose not to do by enactment”: ... . But the converse is also true: courts may not undo by “interpretation” what Parliament chose to do by enactment. If s. 8 reflects bad or outdated public policy, the remedy lies with Parliament, not with the courts.")
    Paragon Capital Corporation Ltd v Starke Dominion Ltd, 2020 ABCA 216 (CanLII), per Antonio JA (dissenting), at para 101
  8. R v NS , 2022 ONCA 160 (CanLII), per Hoy JA, at para 48
    R v Safarzadeh-Markhali, 2016 SCC 14 (CanLII), [2016] 1 SCR 180, per McLachlin CJ, at para 31
    R v Downey, 1992 CanLII 109 (SCC), [1992] 2 SCR 10, per Cory J, at paras 30 to 35
  9. Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford, 2013 SCC 72 (CanLII), [2013] 3 SCR 1101, per McLachlin CJ, at para 132
    This is referred to as the "doctrine against shifting objectives"
  10. Geophysical Service Incorporated v EnCana Corporation, 2017 ABCA 125 (CanLII), 9 WWR 55, per Schutz JA, at para 78, leave to appeal to SCC refused
    R v Vaillancourt, 2019 ABCA 317 (CanLII), 93 Alta LR (6th) 98, per curiam, at para 19
  11. Vaillancourt, ibid.
    Canada 3000 Inc, Re; Inter-Canadian (1991) Inc (Trustee of), 2006 SCC 24 (CanLII), [2006] 1 SCR 865, at para 44
    Bell ExpressVu Limited Partnership v Rex, 2002 SCC 42 (CanLII), [2002] 2 SCR 559, at paras 29to 30
  12. Vaillancourt, ibid.
    Montréal (City) v 2952-1366 Québec Inc, 2005 SCC 62 (CanLII), [2005] 3 SCR 141, at para 10
    R v Alex, 2017 SCC 37 (CanLII), [2017] 1 SCR 967, at para 31
  13. R v Hoyes, 2021 NSCA 33 (CanLII), per Bryson JA, at para 47
  14. Hoyes, ibid., at para 46
  15. NS, supra at para 48 ("Although legislative debates cannot override specific text in legislation, they may still inform the interpretation process")
    MediaQMI v Kamel, 2021 SCC 23 (CanLII), [2021] SCJ No 23, per Cote J, at para 37
  16. Canada (Attorney General) v Utah, 2020 FCA 224 (CanLII), 455 DLR (4th) 714 per Stratas JA ("Harsh the policy might be. But judges--even the most experienced ones we have--cannot meddle with it or refuse to enforce it unless the legislation enacting it is unconstitutional. Nor can judges go through the back door and skew their reasons to get the outcomes they want or cite non-binding sources promoting policies they prefer: ... . Judges are only unelected lawyers who happen to hold a judicial commission. They have no right to smuggle into the task of statutory interpretation their personal views of what is best and then boost their views to the level of law that binds all. Under our constitutional arrangements, that is alone for our legislators, the people for whom we vote.")

Fundamental Principle

The fundamental principle of statutory interpretation is that "the words of a statute be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of the legislature"[1]

This fundamental rule has been treated as effectively an amalgam of three "classic rules of interpretation":[2]

  1. the "Mischief Rule" that considers legislative intent;
  2. the "Literal Rule" that considers the "textual meaning"; and
  3. the "Golden Rule" that considers the "entire context" including established legal norms.

It is understood that legislators choose to adopt “language which accurately conveys the effect of the law without in itself imposing an unnecessary burden of translation and explanation”.[3]

Whenever possible, every part of a provision should be assigned meaning.[4]

The "modern" approach to statutory interpretation can be divided into a separate inquiry of "(a) the statute's textual meaning; (b) the legislative intent; and (c) the entire context including the consideration of established heal norms"[5]

"Ordinary meaning" refers "to the reader’s first impression meaning, the understanding that spontaneously comes to mind when words are read in their immediate context."[6] It is the "natural meaning which appears when the provision is simply read through."[7]

Legislative intent is not to be considered "frozen in time". Its meaning will "respon[d] to the inevitability of changing circumstances."[8]

  1. Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re), 1998 CanLII 837 (SCC), [1998] 1 SCR 27, per Iacobucci J, at para 21
    Bell Expressive Limited Partnership v Rex, 2002 SCC 42 (CanLII), [2002] 2 SCR 559, per Iacobucci J, at para 26
    Application under s. 83.28 of the Criminal Code (Re), 2004 SCC 42 (CanLII), [2004] 2 SCR 248, per Iacobucci and Arbour JJ, at para 34 ("The modern principle of statutory interpretation requires that the words of the legislation be read “in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament”: [citation omitted]. This is the prevailing and preferred approach to statutory interpretation: [citation omitted] The modern approach recognizes the multi‑faceted nature of statutory interpretation. Textual considerations must be read in concert with legislative intent and established legal norms. ") R v Brode, 2012 ONCA 140 (CanLII), 286 CCC (3d) 347, per Epstien JA, (“direct that the words of a statute be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of the legislature.”)
    British Columbia v Henfrey Samson Belair Ltd, 1989 CanLII 43 (SCC), [1989] 2 SCR 24, per McLachlin J, at p. 31 ("the provisions of an enactment relevant to a particular case are to be read in the following way:... The Act as a whole is to be read in its entire context so as to ascertain the intention of Parliament (the law as expressly or impliedly enacted by the words), the object of the Act (the ends sought to be achieved), and the scheme of the Act (the relation between the individual provisions of the Act).... The words of the individual provisions to be applied to the particular case under consideration are then to be read in their grammatical and ordinary sense in the light of the intention of Parliament embodied in the Act as a whole, the object of the Act and the scheme of the Act, and if they are clear and unambiguous and in harmony with that intention, object and scheme and with the general body of the law, that is the end.")
    R v Rioux, 1969 CanLII 83 (CSC), [1969] SCR 599, per Hall J, at p. 26 ("First, in criminal matters, the phraseology used by Parliament must be given its ordinary meaning; this is a fundamental rule of interpretation.")
    R v Barton, 2019 SCC 33 (CanLII), [2019] 2 SCR 579}, per Moldaver J, at paras 70 to 71
    R v Myers, 2019 SCC 18 (CanLII), [2019] 2 SCR 105, per Wagner CJ, at para 19
    R v Jarvis, 2019 SCC 10 (CanLII), [2019] 1 SCR 488, per Wagner CJ, at para 24
    R v Carson, 2018 SCC 12 (CanLII), [2018] 1 SCR 269, per Karakatsanis J, at para 32
    R v Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2018 ABCA 391 (CanLII), 77 Alta LR (6th) 232, per Rowbotham JA, at para 18
    R v Paterson, 2017 SCC 15 (CanLII), [2017] 1 SCR 202, per Brown J, at para 31
  2. Cape Breton (Regional Municipality) v Nova Scotia (Attorney General), 2009 NSCA 44 (CanLII), 882 APR 350, per Macdonald CJ, at paras 36 to 41
  3. Howard’s Criminal Law (5th ed. 1990), at p. 11
  4. R v AA, 2015 ONCA 558 (CanLII), 327 CCC (3d) 377, per Watt JA, at para 67
    R v Hutchinson, 2014 SCC 19 (CanLII), [2014] 1 SCR 346, per McLachlin CJ and Cromwell J, at para 16
    Ruth Sullivan, Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes, 5th ed. (LexisNexis, 2008), at p. 210
  5. Capre Breton (Regional Municipality) v Nova Scotia (Attorney General), supra, at paras 36 to 38
  6. Pharmascience Inc v Binet, 2006 SCC 48 (CanLII), [2006] 2 SCR 513, per LeBel J, at para 30
    R v Wookey, 2016 ONCA 611 (CanLII), 363 CRR (2d) 177, per Tulloch JA, at para 25
  7. Canadian Pacific Air Lines Ltd. v Canadian Air Line Pilots Assn., 1993 CanLII 31 (SCC), [1993] 3 SCR 724, per Gonthier J, at p. 735
    Pharmascience Inc v Binet, supra, at para 30
    Wookey, supra, at para 25
  8. R v 974649 Ontario Inc, 2001 SCC 81 (CanLII), [2001] 3 SCR 575, per McLachlin CJ, at para 38 (" The intention of Parliament or the legislatures is not frozen for all time at the moment of a statute’s enactment, such that a court interpreting the statute is forever confined to the meanings and circumstances that governed on that day. Such an approach risks frustrating the very purpose of the legislation by rendering it incapable of responding to the inevitability of changing circumstances. Instead, we recognize that the law speaks continually once adopted")


Where there is no ambiguity the fundamental principle of interpretation is the only principle that applies. The other principles only apply where there is "ambiguity."[1] That being said, the finding of ambiguity is not a "precondition" to a contextual analysis and restrict analysis to merely a "plain reading" of the text.[2]

Ambiguity exists where the provision is "reasonably capable of more than one meaning."[3] The ambiguity must be "real."[4] Two or more interpretations must be "each equally in accordance with the intentions of the statute."[5]

Ambiguity does not exist merely where courts or other writers disagree on interpretation.[6]

Ambiguity in the wording of one language may be resolved by considering whether the other language wording provides clarity before considering other principles of interpretation.[7]

Where the meaning of the English and French versions diverge, the proper interpretation should be the lowest common denominator.[8]

  1. Bell ExpressVu Limited Partnership v Rex, 2002 SCC 42 (CanLII), [2002] 2 SCR 559, per Iacobucci J, at paras 26 to 28
  2. Martell v Halifax (Regional Municipality), 2015 NSCA 101 (CanLII), per Bourgeois JA, at para 32
  3. Bell ExpressVu, supra, at para 29 ("What, then, in law is an ambiguity? To answer, an ambiguity must be “real” [citation omitted]. The words of the provision must be “reasonably capable of more than one meaning” [citation omitted]. By necessity, however, one must consider the “entire context” of a provision before one can determine if it is reasonably capable of multiple interpretations. In this regard, Major J.’s statement in CanadianOxy Chemicals Ltd. v Canada (Attorney General) [citation omitted], is apposite: “It is only when genuine ambiguity arises between two or more plausible readings, each equally in accordance with the intentions of the statute, that the courts need to resort to external interpretive aids” (emphasis added), to which I would add, “including other principles of interpretation”.")
  4. Bell ExpressVu, supra, at para 29
  5. Bell ExpressVu, supra, at para 29
  6. Bell ExpressVu, supra, at para 30
  7. R v Mac, 2002 SCC 24 (CanLII), [2002] 1 SCR 856, per Bastarache J, at paras 26 to 31
  8. R v Daoust, 2004 SCC 6 (CanLII), [2004] 1 SCR 217, per Bastarache J (7:0), at para 2

Other Principles

Error or Omissions

The court has no authority to correct any errors or omissions in legislation where it is a "clearly drafted enactment."[1]

Principle of legality

The principle of legality requires that legislation provide a degree of certainty, and should reflect “the overall need to use the criminal law with restraint”[2]

No surplusage and presumption against tautology

No provision in an act "should be interpreted so as to render it mere surplusage.”[3] Stated differently there is a presumption against legislative bodies using "superfluous or meaningless words."[4]

It is a principle that "Parliament does not speak in vain."[5]

Parliament is presumed to have a purpose for each provision and avoids superfluous and meaningless language.[6]

There is a presumption against legislative drafters being redundant.[7]

Remedial Purpose

Under s. 12 of the Interpretation Act, "[e]very enactment is deemed remedial, and shall be given such fair, large and liberal construction and interpretation as best ensures the attainment of its objects."[8] This requires that the court examine what the problem the act is attempting to solve and interpret the meaning in that light.[9]

Constitutional Interpretation and Charter values

Where multiple interpretations exist the court should only consider those interpretations that are constitutional.[10]

A provision should be interpreted to conform with "Charter values."[11]

This principle only applies where there is ambiguity.[12]

International Law

It is presumed that all laws of Canada are to accord with international law.[13] Parliament is free to make laws that conflict, but it should do so "clearly and expressly."[14]

Presumption of Consistent or Uniform Expression (same words, same meaning)

Unless it appears otherwise, the same words used by the legislature have the same meaning within a statute, and different words have different meanings.[15]

"[A]bsent express language to the contrary, the same words in two subsections of the same provision should be treated alike... Giving the same words the same meaning throughout a statute is a basic principle of statutory interpretation."[16]

The principle of "uniformity of expression" states that a word or phrase should have one and only one meaning across the statute and enabled regulation. The opposite is also true, the use of different wording implies a different meaning.[17] The principles of uniformity of expression are not infallible.[18]

Amending the common law

There is a presumption against interpreting statutes as changing the common law, except where they "clearly and unambiguously" intend to do so.[19]

Avoiding absurdities

Where the language of a statue has multiple meanings, it must be interpreted to exclude absurd results. [20]

General wording

General wording of a statute is to provide the court with the responsibility to interpret in a prescriptive manner.[21]

Associated words rule

Terms associated with each other in the form of an enumeration linked by "and" or "or" are to "serve an analogous grammatical and logical function within a provision". The terms are to "draw colour" from each other through their commonality and differences. This is to be used to resolve ambiguity or limit the scope of the terms.[22]

Last Antecedents

When legislation lists a series of clauses, a "comma before a qualifying word ordinarily indicates that they are meant to apply to all antecedents while the absence of a comma indicates that they are meant to apply to the last antecedent alone."[23]

Relative words "must ordinarily be referred to the last antecedent" to give the words full meaning.[24] This rule should yield where the result "makes nonsense."[25]

Deference to Parliament

Deference must be given to the manner chosen to achieve its objectives.[26]

Legislative History

The history of legislation can be an important part of "the context" for statutory interpretation.[27] The history can sometimes provide insight into how to interpret the provision.[28]

House of Commons debates that indicate the object of the bill can regularly be relied upon as evidence for the legislative purpose.[29]

Legislative Headers and Marginal Notes

Marginal notes are of limited value.[30] However, they can be "relevant to interpreting the provisions arranged under it."[31]

  1. R v Daoust, 2004 SCC 6 (CanLII), [2004] 1 SCR 217, per Bastarache J (7:0), at para 45
  2. see D. Stuart, Criminal Law: A Treatise (5th ed. 2007), at p. 86
  3. R v Proulx, 2000 SCC 61 (CanLII), [2000] 1 SCR 61, per Lamer CJ, at para 25
  4. R v Ali, 2019 ONCA 1006 (CanLII), per Watt JA, at para 67 ("We presume that legislative bodies avoid superfluous or meaningless words. Every word and phrase used in a statute has a meaning and a function. Thus, we eschew interpretations that render any portion of a statute meaningless, pointless, or redundant")
    Winters v Legal Services Society, 1999 CanLII 656 (SCC), [1999] 3 SCR 160, per Binnie J, at para 48
    R v Katigbak, 2011 SCC 48 (CanLII), [2011] 3 SCR 326, per McLachlin C.J. and Charron J, at para 59
  5. Attorney General of Quebec v Carrières Ste-Thérèse Ltée, 1985 CanLII 35 (SCC), [1985] 1 SCR 831, per curiam, at p. 838
  6. Medovarski v Canada, 2005 SCC 51 (CanLII), [2005] 2 SCR 539, per McLachlin CJ, at paras 31 to 38
    R v Plummer, 2006 CanLII 38165 (ON CA), 214 CCC (3d) 84, [2006] OJ No 4530 (ONCA), per Rosenberg JA, at para 19
    R v Joncas, 2007 NBCA 28 (CanLII), [2007] NBJ No 152, per Drapeau CJ, at para 17
  7. R v Shand, 2011 ONCA 5 (CanLII), 266 CCC (3d) 137, per Rouleau JA, at para 107
    National Automobile, Aerospace Transportation and General Workers Union of Canada (CAW - Canada) Local No 27 v London Machinery Inc, 2006 CanLII 8711 (ON CA), , 79 OR (3d) 444, per Cronk JA, at para 7
  8. R.S., c. I-23, s. 11.
  9. R v Gladue, 1999 CanLII 679 (SCC), [1999] 1 SCR 688, per Cory and Iacobucci JJ, at paras 31 to 34
    Canada 3000 Inc, Re; Inter‑Canadian (1991) Inc (Trustee of), 2006 SCC 24 (CanLII), [2006] 1 SCR 865, per Binnie J, at para 36 ("the notion that a statute is to be interpreted in light of the problem it was intended to address is as old at least as the 16th century”)
  10. Slaight Communications v Davidson, 1989 CanLII 92 (SCC), [1989] 1 SCR 1038, per Dickson CJ
    R v Canadian Pacific Ltd., 1995 CanLII 112 (SCC), [1995] 2 SCR 1031, per Gonthier J, at para 12
    Nickel City Transport (Sudbury) Ltd., Nickel City Transport (Sudbury) Ltd., 1993 CanLII 8483 (ON CA), 82 CCC (3d) 541
    R v Rube, 1992 CanLII 34 (SCC), [1992] 3 SCR 159, per Lamer CJ
  11. Bell ExpressVu, supra
    Hills v Canada (Attorney General), 1988 CanLII 67 (SCC), [1988] 1 SCR 513, per L'Heureux‑Dubé J, at para 93 ("Appellant ... urged that preference be given to Charter values in the interpretation of a statute, ... I agree that the values embodied in the Charter must be given preference over an interpretation which would run contrary to them... ")
    R v Nova Scotia Pharmaceutical Society, 1992 CanLII 72 (SCC), [1992] 2 SCR 606, per Gonthier J ("It must be remembered that if there are two possible interpretations of a statutory provision, one of which embodies the Charter values and the other does not, that which embodies the Charter values should be adopted.")
  12. Bell ExpressVu, supra
  13. R v Hape, 2007 SCC 26 (CanLII), [2007] 2 SCR 292, per LeBel J , at para 53
  14. R v Chowdhury, 2014 ONSC 2635 (CanLII), per Nordheimer J , at para 20
  15. R v AA, 2015 ONCA 558 (CanLII), 327 CCC (3d) 377, per Watt JA (3:0), at para 68
    R v Ali, 2019 ONCA 1006 (CanLII), per Watt JA, at para 68 ("We also presume the legislative body uses language in a careful and consistent manner. Thus, within a statute, the same words and phrases have the same meaning and different words and phrases have different meanings. Unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, words and phrases should be assigned the same meaning wherever they appear in a statute")
    Ruth Sullivan, Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes, 5th ed. (LexisNexis, 2008), at 214 to 215
    R v Zeolkowski, 1989 CanLII 72 (SCC), [1989] 1 SCR 1378, per Sopinka J (5:0), at p. 1387
    R v Bansal, 2017 BCCA 93 (CanLII), per Frankel JA (3:0), at para 41 (the principles "presumes that, unless the contrary appears, the same words will have the same meaning in a statute, particularly when they are used in close proximity")
  16. R v Charette, 2009 ONCA 310 (CanLII), 243 CCC (3d) 480, per Moldaver JA (3:0), at para 38 citing Zeolkowski, supra, at p. 1387
  17. see Maurice v Priel, 1987 CanLII 207 (SK CA), 46 DLR (4th) 416, per Bayda CJ, at pp. 20-21
  18. R v Trang, 2001 ABQB 106 (CanLII), 153 CCC (3d) 201, per Binder J, at para 21
  19. R v Goleski, 2014 BCCA 80 (CanLII), 307 CCC (3d) 1, per Frankel JA (3:0), at para 77
    Slaight Communications Inc v Davidson, 1989 CanLII 92 (SCC), [1989] 1 SCR 1038, per Dickson CJ, at p. 1077
    Parry Sound (District) Social Services Administration Board v O.P.S.E.U., Local 324, 2003 SCC 42 (CanLII), [2003] 2 SCR 157, per Iacobucci J, at para 39
    Heritage Capital Corp. v Equitable Trust Co, 2016 SCC 19 (CanLII), [2016] 1 SCR 306, per Gascon and Côté JJ (9:0), at paras 29 to 30
  20. R v Canadian Pacific Ltd., 1995 CanLII 112 (SCC), [1995] 2 SCR 1031, per Gonthier J, at para 65
    R v Hinchey, 1996 CanLII 157 (SCC), [1996] 3 SCR 1128, per L’Heureux-Dubé J
    Rizzo, supra, at para 27
    Ali, supra, at para 71 ("An interpretation that leads to an absurdity may be rejected in favour of a plausible alternative that avoids the absurdity.")
    R v McIntosh, 1995 CanLII 124 (SCC), [1995] 1 SCR 686, per Lamer CJ, at p. 722 (SCR)
    Morgentaler v The Queen, 1975 CanLII 8 (SCC), [1976] 1 SCR 616, per Pigeon J, at p. 676
  21. R v Beauchamp, 2009 CanLII 37720 (ON SC), 68 CR (6th) 293, per Smith J, at paras 40 to 41
  22. R v Ali, 2019 ONCA 1006 (CanLII), per Watt JA, at para 69 ("The associated words rule may be invoked when two or more terms, linked by “and” or “or”, serve an analogous grammatical and logical function within a provision. The terms draw their colour from each other. We look to a common feature among the terms and rely on that common feature to resolve ambiguity or limit the scope of the terms")
    R v Goulis, 1981 CanLII 1642 (ON CA), 60 CCC (2d) 348, per Martin JA, at pp. 352-353
    See also, Ontario v Canadian Pacific Ltd, 1995 CanLII 112 (SCC), [1995] 2 SCR 1031, per Gonthier J, at para 64
    R v Daoust, 2004 SCC 6 (CanLII), [2004] 1 SCR 217, per Bastarache J, at paras 49 to 51
    Opitz v Wrzesnewskvj, 2012 SCC 55 (CanLII), [2012] 3 SCR 76, per Rothstein and Moldaver JJ, at paras 40 to 43
  23. R v CL, 2005 NSFC 21 (CanLII), 760 APR 110, per Comeau J, at para 7 citing Dreidger, "Construction of Statutes (3rd Ed.), at p. 277
  24. Re Hinton Avenue, Ottawa, 1920 CanLII 443 (ON CA), 54 DLR 115, per Sutherland JA
  25. R v Frank, 1977 CanLII 152 (SCC), [1978] 1 SCR 95, per Dickson J (9:0)
  26. Beauchamp, ibid., at paras 42 to 44
  27. R v ADH, 2013 SCC 28 (CanLII), [2013] 2 SCR 269, per Cromwell J, at para 30
    Canada (Canadian Human Rights Commission) v Canada (Attorney General), 2011 SCC 53 (CanLII), [2011] 3 SCR 471, per LeBel and Cromwell JJ, at para 43
  28. Goleski, ibid., at para 31
    R v Ulybel Enterprises Ltd., 2001 SCC 56 (CanLII), [2001] 2 SCR 867, per Iacobucci J (7:0), at para 33
    Chieu v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2002 SCC 3 (CanLII), [2002] 1 SCR 84, per Iacobucci J, at para 34
    Montréal (City) v 2952-1366 Québec Inc, 2005 SCC 62 (CanLII), [2005] 3 SCR 141, per McLachlin CJ and Deschamps J, at para 17
    McDiarmid Lumber Ltd. v God’s Lake First Nation, 2006 SCC 58 (CanLII), [2006] 2 SCR 846, per McLachlin CJ, at para 46
  29. see e.g. Canadian National Railway Co v Canada (A.G.), 2014 SCC 40 (CanLII), [2014] 2 SCR 135, per Rothstein J (7:0), at para 47
  30. Interpretation Act, s. 14
    Imperial Oil Ltd. v Canada; Inco Ltd. v Canada, 2006 SCC 46 (CanLII), [2006] 2 SCR 447, per LeBel J (4:3), at para 57
    R v Wigglesworth, 1987 CanLII 41 (SCC), [1987] 2 SCR 541, per Wilson J, at paras 18 to 19
    Skapinker v Law Society of Upper Canada, 1984 CanLII 3 (SCC), [1984] 1 SCR 357, per Estey J, at para 25 - Charter interpretation, (“These headings in Part I appear to be integral to the Charter provisions and hence of more significance than the marginal notes and chapter headings sometimes appearing in the statutes.”)
  31. Ambrosi v British Columbia (Attorney General), 2014 BCCA 123 (CanLII), 311 CCC (3d) 264, per Bennett JA (3:0), at para 54
    Law Society of Upper Canada v Skapinker, supra

Interpreting the Criminal Code

Charter Interpretation

Legislative Amendments

Stare Decisis

Special Issues of Interpretation

Questions of statutory interpretation are assessed as a "question of law" and reviewable on a standard of correctness.[1]

Interpreting Court Orders

Interpreting an order is a "question of law" and no deference is owed on review. It is an objective assessment on a standard of correctness.[2]

There is an exception where a judge's interpretation of his own orders is "entitled to considerable deference."[3]

Where record of the decision is available, it will be necessary to conform the order to the decision.[4]

In interpreting an order "a Court will use accepted principles of statutory and contractual interpretation to ascertain the intent of the ordering judge."[5]Those principles of statutory and contractual interpretation are "analogous" to the principles to be applied to looking at the "intent of the ordering judge"[6]

The "contextual approach to interpreting statutes ...with necessary modification, apply to the interpretation of orders."[7]

  1. Canadian National Railway v Canada, 2014 SCC 40 (CanLII) at para 33 ("An issue of statutory interpretation is a question of law")
    R v Fedossenko, 2014 ABCA 314 (CanLII), 584 AR 90(2:1), at para 2
  2. Royal Bank of Canada v Robertson, 2016 NSSC 176 (CanLII), per Moir J, at para 11
  3. Boily v Carleton Condo. Corp, 2014 ONCA 574 (CanLII), 121 OR (3d) 670, per Epstein JA (2:1), at para 71
  4. Robertson, supra, at para 13
  5. Canadian National Railway v Holmes, 2015 ONSC 3038 (CanLII), 26 CBR (6th) 328, per McEwan J, at para 18
    Robertson, supra, at para 14
  6. Robertson, supra, at para 15
    L’Homme v Pliskevicius Estate, 2011 ONSC 6102 (CanLII), per Crane J, at para 22
  7. Robertson, supra, at para 19

Interpreting Foreign Law

It is a well established that relying upon foreign law in a judicial proceedings will normally require expert evidence.[1] The existence of a foreign law is a question of fact.[2]

While judges are deemed to know the law within their jurisdiction, they are not competent to know the law of a foreign country.[3]

  1. Xiao v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2009 FC 195 (CanLII), [2009] 4 FCR 510, 341 FTR 217 per de Montigny J, at para 24
    Allen v Hay, 1922 CanLII 25 (SCC), 64 SCR 76, per Duff J at pp. 80–81
  2. Xiao, ibid. at paras 24, 25, 28 and 29
  3. R v Wagner, 1931 CanLII 479 (MB CA), 56 CCC 213, 39 Man R 532, per Robson JA at p 535 (Man R)

See Also