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Statutory Interpretation - Statutory Amendments

. La Presse inc. v. Quebec

In La Presse inc. v. Quebec (SCC, 2023) the Supreme Court of Canada considers statutory interpretation, here in the context of statutory amendments:
[60] In closing, I will say a word on the use of subsequent legislative history, that is, the record of the process, materials, and debate that followed s. 648(1)’s enactment, in the interpretation of this provision.

[61] The appellants in both appeals make much of the withdrawal of a clause that would have amended s. 648(1) to make it expressly applicable “in respect of any matter dealt with by a judge before any juror is sworn”. In 1994, the Minister of Justice explained to the House of Commons that the government’s initial intention was to “fill a gap” with respect to evidence-related pre-empanelment motions whose publication “might contaminate members of a prospective jury” (House of Commons Debates, vol. 133, No. 143, 1st Sess., 35th Parl., December 13, 1994, at p. 9010 (emphasis added)). He added that the language of clause 62 “might be overbroad” and that it was accordingly to be removed from Bill C-42 (ibid.).

[62] In the submission of La Presse and CBC, the fact that Parliament considered but ultimately refrained from expressly broadening s. 648(1)’s scope indicates that this provision has always — from 1972 until today — been meant to apply only after the jury is empanelled. Put differently, they ask this Court to infer that because Parliament in 1994 might have found it necessary to amend s. 648(1), this tells us something about what Parliaments in 1972 or 1985 intended with respect to this provision and its interaction with s. 645(5).

[63] I would decline to place any weight on the 1994 amending clause and its withdrawal. My view is that proposed but abandoned amendments are of no assistance in identifying the meaning of the legislation that would otherwise have been amended. In this regard, I adopt the reasoning of Justices Cory and Iacobucci in M. v. H., 1999 CanLII 686 (SCC), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 3, at para. 105:
With respect, I cannot agree that a failed amendment can provide evidence as to the objective of the legislation that was to have been amended. Section 17 of the Interpretation Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. I.11, provides: “The repeal or amendment of an Act shall be deemed not to be or to involve any declaration as to the previous state of the law.” If the amendment of an Act may not be used to interpret the meaning of the Act prior to the amendment, then I do not see how a failed amendment may be used in this manner. [Emphasis in original.]
This reasoning applies equally to federal legislation given s. 45(3) of the Interpretation Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. I-21 (stating that the “repeal or amendment of an enactment in whole or in part shall not be deemed to be or to involve any declaration as to the previous state of the law”) and in light of logical limits of relevance.


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Last modified: 06-10-23
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