Legislation in both official languages

Pursuant to Section 133 of the Constitution Act 1867, the Parliament of Canada is required to pass all legislation in French and English, with both versions having equal force.

As a result of the language difference, however, provisions that were intended to be consistent sometimes aren’t.

To remedy this, the general rule is to give preference to the version that best attains the provisions’ objectives, in accordance with the true spirit, intent and meaning of the statute.

In the Supreme Court of Canada judgment The Queen v. Cie Immobiliere BCN Lté (1979), Judge J. Pratte rejected the view that the narrower of the two versions should prevail. He stated: “The narrower meaning of the two versions should not be preferred where such meaning would clearly run contrary to the intent of the legislation and would consequently tend to defeat rather than assist the attainment of its objects.”

As a result, it is an important litigious strategy in Canada to ascertain the meaning of both versions of any disputed provision, as well as identify the true spirit, intent and meaning of the statute as a whole. The policy that underlies the statute must be determined, then the provision that is most consistent with those policy goals should be followed.