Brief Introduction to Canadian Law
Canada is a democracy. Until 1867 Canada was a colony of Great Britain. Canada came into formal legal existence by an enactment of the British Parliament known as the British North America Act (BNA). This divided Canada into three levels of government: national (federal) level, provincial (now ten provinces and three territories) level, and the local (municipal) level. How each level of government was given responsibility for making laws in certain areas called their “jurisdiction” or “power”.
These three levels of government operate separately from one another although they all try to work together for the good of Canadians. In some areas, their jurisdictions do overlap. For example, the federal government has the power to make laws relating to marriage and divorce and provincial governments have the power to make laws relating to property and its division after a divorce. Therefore, when a family separates both federal and provincial laws apply to the situation.
It can be very confusing to try to understand which of the levels of government are responsible for managing particular questions or problems. Many times the answer is that several levels of government are responsible for answering different questions relating to the same person’s interests. This requires much cooperation between different levels of government, and a lot of patience.
In the case of coming to or living in Canada as a wife being sponsored by your husband, you have to follow both federal and provincial laws. Immigration law which governs sponsorship and permanent residency is federal law and issues relating to marriage are provincial law. This may seem confusing at times.
These sections give a very brief introduction to Canadian laws:
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- Who makes the law?
- Sources of Laws
- Who does the law apply to?
- Areas of Laws of Importance to Foreign Brides
- What is the role of the police?
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Everyone in Canada is considered equal under the law regardless of race, age, sex, religion, class, and disability. This means that everyone has the same rights to be protected by the laws of Canada and also benefit from the laws of Canada. The Charter also guarantees democratic rights and respect for the two official languages of Canada: English and French.
In 1982, Canada established in writing its basic Canadian values in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This charter is a legal document that guarantees certain rights and freedoms for all people in Canada. It is considered the “supreme law of Canada” and all other laws that are not consistent with this charter are not considered valid. You can read the Charter on the Canada Department of Justice website or go to your local public library to find a copy.
The Charter guarantees certain freedoms to everyone in Canada (citizens and non-citizens alike). Some of these include the freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association. Citizens also have other rights set out in the Charter of Rights guaranteeing democratic and mobility rights, guarantees as to the use of and access to certain services in the two official languages of Canada, official language education guarantees for their children and protection of the multi-cultural heritage of Canada and of its First Nations peoples. People are given the freedom to choose what they believe and think.
Who makes the law?
Canada is a democracy. All three levels of government — federal, provincial, and municipal — are responsible for making laws in their own area of power or jurisdiction. These levels of government are made up of elected representatives of the public. That means that individual citizens who are at least 18 years old vote for someone they want to represent them in government. So, in a way, every individual Canadian contributes to making the laws since they vote for the people who they feel would best represent them in government.
Sources of Laws
Statutes are written laws. There are Statutes of Canada (federal laws), Statutes of Alberta (provincial laws) and “bylaws” for the city you live in (municipal law). These various laws are drafted, debated in an open government process and are voted upon by democratically elected representatives of the people.
These are cases which have been decided by judges over centuries of English and Canadian court decisions. Important legal matters have been considered by the courts and Canadian statutes have been considered in the context of individual circumstances. Then, judges of the Canadian courts have issued written opinions which clarify certain points of law or provide direction in uncertain areas. These provide guidance to the public in how to apply the written statute law to their individual circumstances.
Who does the law apply to?
The law applies to everyone in Canada, whether you are a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident, or a visitor. If you break a law in Canada, your immigration status could affect the kind of penalty you receive. If you are not a Canadian citizen, for example, and you are found guilty of a crime, you could be deported. This could affect your ability to enter Canada in any capacity in the future.
It is your responsibility to know and obey Canadian laws if you are planning to come here. Even if you break a law because you did not know about it, you will still be penalized for it. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it.
Areas of Laws of Importance to Foreign Brides
These are laws that are considered private matters between individuals, such as contract agreements (signing a lease to rent an apartment, for example), marriage, or a private dispute that is reconciled in court (litigation). Civil law is enforced and paid for by the citizens who bring action against each other. All of the costs of legal action, including hiring a lawyer and completing the required paperwork, must be paid by the individual. This can be very time-consuming and expensive but under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadians are entitled to enforce their civil rights against each other.
Family law is governed by the civil laws of Canada, but includes its own subset of issues, such as marriage and divorce. Family law also includes child welfare laws which protect the interests of children in a family. Unless certain criminal activities are occurring, such as spousal or child abuse, then the matters of marriage and child welfare remain under the umbrella of civil law.
These are laws concerning the security and protection of individuals within a country. Criminal laws are enforced and funded by the government. Some examples of issues that fall under criminal law are sexual assault, murder, domestic violence, child abuse, stealing, and assault. Criminal laws can carry very severe punishments such as life imprisonment. Canada, however, does not sanction the death penalty. Under criminal law, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty when they are charged with a crime. That means that an accused person does not need to prove they are innocent, rather the government must prove that the person is guilty.
This area of law deals with matters between countries. International law is often developed through multi-nation groups such as the United Nations. International law between countries can include issues such as trading policies (for example, the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico) or immigration policies and agreements between certain countries (for example, individuals from certain countries, such as the United States, do not need a visa to enter Canada).
What is the role of the police?
The job of the police in Canada is to enforce the law. Police must also obey the law themselves. They cannot, for example, accept money in return for dropping charges against someone. It is illegal for anyone to offer money to a police officer. If police themselves break the law, they are punished like anyone else.
Every person in Canada has certain rights in relation to the police, including:
- Generally the police cannot go into or search your home without a warrant.
- If you are arrested, you must be permitted to contact a lawyer in a reasonable amount of time.
- If you are arrested, you must be told why you have been arrested.
- If there is not enough of a reason for your arrest, you must be released.
- You cannot be convicted and punished twice for the same offence.
- You cannot be subjected to any cruel and unusual punishment. The police cannot beat you, torture you, or threaten your family, except in self-defence.
You can contact the police when you have been a victim of a crime, for example, if someone has broken into your house or you have been assaulted by someone. If your life or a member of your family’s life is in danger, the police are there to help get you out of that situation