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Statutes and Statutory Interpretation - Extrinsic and Intrinsic Evidence

. Reference re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

In (SCC, 2021) the Supreme Court of Canada considers some principles of evidence applicable to statutory interpretation (intrinsic and extrinsic evidence):
(a) Intrinsic Evidence

[58] This Court has frequently used a statute’s title as a tool for the purposes of characterization: Re: Exported Natural Gas Tax, 1982 CanLII 189 (SCC), [1982] 1 S.C.R. 1004, at p. 1077; R. v. Swain, 1991 CanLII 104 (SCC), [1991] 1 S.C.R. 933, at p. 1004; Siemens v. Manitoba (Attorney General), 2003 SCC 3, [2003] 1 S.C.R. 6, at para. 21. However, a statute’s title is not determinative in the pith and substance analysis: Re: Anti-Inflation Act, 1976 CanLII 16 (SCC), [1976] 2 S.C.R. 373, at p. 451. In the case at bar, the statute is titled “Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act”. Its long title is “An Act to mitigate climate change through the pan-Canadian application of pricing mechanisms to a broad set of greenhouse gas emission sources and to make consequential amendments to other Acts”. Both of these titles confirm that the purpose of the GGPPA is more precise than the regulation of GHG emissions. As the long title makes clear, the true subject matter of the GGPPA is not just “to mitigate climate change”, but to do so “through the pan-Canadian application of pricing mechanisms to a broad set of greenhouse gas emission sources”. The short title also makes it clear that the GGPPA is concerned not simply with regulating GHG emissions, but with pricing them, as the statute is titled the “Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act”. Just as Lamer C.J. found in Swain, it is in the instant case clear even from the title of the GGPPA that its main thrust is national GHG pricing, not, more broadly, the reduction of GHG emissions.

[59] Likewise, the preamble of the GGPPA confirms that its subject matter is national GHG pricing. In general, preambles are useful in constitutional litigation in order to illustrate the “mischief” the legislation is designed to cure and the goals Parliament sought to achieve: R. Sullivan, Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes (6th ed. 2014), at § 14.25; P. W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada (5th ed. Supp. (loose-leaf)), vol. 1, at pp. 15-14 to 15-15. Although a preamble is not conclusive or determinative, it can be a useful tool in interpreting the purpose of a statute or a provision.

[60] It is clear from reading the preamble as a whole that the focus of the GGPPA is on national GHG pricing. The preamble begins with a review of the contribution of GHG emissions to global climate change, of the impact of climate change on — and the risks it poses to — Canada and Canadians (at paras. 1-5), and of the international commitments made by Canada in the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement to reduce GHG emissions (paras. 6-8). It then focuses on establishing a minimum national standards GHG pricing scheme. It identifies GHG pricing as “a core element” of the Pan-Canadian Framework (at para. 10), and recognizes that climate change requires immediate collective action to promote behavioural change which leads to increased energy efficiency (paras. 9 and 11). After that, pricing mechanisms are commented on at length (at paras. 12-16): in particular, it is noted that some provinces are developing or have implemented GHG pricing systems (at para. 14), but that the absence of such systems or a lack of stringency in some provincial GHG pricing systems could contribute to significant harm to the environment and to human health (para. 15). The preamble concludes with a statement that a national GHG pricing scheme is accordingly necessary in order to ensure that, taking provincial pricing systems into account, “greenhouse gas emissions pricing applies broadly in Canada”: para. 16.

[61] Furthermore, the “mischief” the GGPPA is intended to address is clearly identified in the preamble: the profound nationwide harm associated with a purely intraprovincial approach to regulating GHG emissions. In Firearms, the Court stated that the mischief approach — one in which a court considers the problem a statute is intended to address — is one way to determine the purpose of impugned legislation: para. 21. In the instant case, the preamble shows that the law is intended to address the “significant deleterious effects on the environment, including its biological diversity, on human health and safety and on economic prosperity” that could result from “the absence of greenhouse gas emissions pricing in some provinces and a lack of stringency in some provincial greenhouse gas emissions pricing systems”: para. 15. In Parliament’s eyes, the relevant mischief is not GHG emissions generally, but rather the effects of the failure of some provinces to implement GHG pricing systems or to implement sufficiently stringent pricing systems, and the consequential failure to reduce GHG emissions across Canada. To address this mischief, the GGPPA establishes minimum national standards for GHG pricing that apply across Canada, setting a GHG pricing “floor” across the country.

[62] In considering extrinsic evidence, a court may consider the statute’s legislative history — the events leading up to its enactment, for example, as well as government policy papers and legislative debates — in order to determine what the legislative purpose is: Hogg, at pp. 15-14 to 15-15; Kitkatla, at para. 53. In the case at bar, the extrinsic evidence confirms that the main thrust of the GGPPA is establishing minimum national standards of GHG price stringency to reduce GHG emissions.


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