Rule of Law

Canadian democracy is founded upon the “Rule of Law.” The expression “law” means a set of rules that governs relationships of citizens with each other; regulates commerce and our lives within the community, and protects people from the unlawful acts of individuals or the state.

In Canada, two different legal regimes co-exist. They originate from the English common law and the French civil law traditions. All over Canada, law can be the product of legislation passed by parliament or provincial legislatures, which is referred to as “statutory law”. In public law and in Canada’s common law jurisdictions, law is also the product of decisions rendered by judges in the sense that the interpretation and application of legislation and legal concepts evolve over time as cases are decided, appealed, affirmed, overturned, modified, distinguished and refined. This source is referred to as “common law”. In Québec, where a civil law system operates in private law, the Code civil du Québec will be applied to many matters before the courts, as it is considered the “droit commun” of the province.

The expression “Rule of Law” describes more generally a single, overarching rule that expresses an agreement – both as individuals and as a collective, a community – to be bound by and subject to the law.

That commitment carries an explicit understanding that such adherence applies to everyone, no matter what their lineage, heritage or station in life. It means no one is above the law:

  • It means that kings and queens, prime ministers, army generals, presidents, business titans, and judges the will all face the same laws as the poorest and least advantaged person in society; and
  • It means that the law will be applied fairly and evenly to all persons, taking no account of hierarchies, privilege, power or wealth.

Representations of Justicia show the goddess as blindfolded, a metaphor conveying that in order for justice to be fair, it should be dispassionate and blind to matters of authority, power or prestige.

The belief in and an adherence to the Rule of Law is a cornerstone of Canada’s constitutional democracy. It is the tool by which a truly impartial and independent judiciary carries out its work. It is the fundamental idea that each judge has sworn upon oath, to uphold. The Rule of Law distinguishes us from other countries where no such protections exist: where tyrants and their armies and their secret police hold citizens in terror; where wrongdoers are unaccountable; where complicity goes unpunished; where democracy is illusory; and where the rights of the few can be trampled by the power of the mob, or majority.

See Chart re Judicial Independence.

More information is available on the Canadian Judicial Council website (PDF).