Coming into Force of Federal Legislation: A Practical Guide

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Following Royal Assent, a federal bill becomes an Act of Parliament and is printed as a chapter in the Statutes of Canada. However, the provisions in that Act do not produce legal effects until they have come into force. The coming into force of an Act, also referred to as the commencement, is the point at which an Act becomes legally binding.

This HillNote provides an overview of how the date of coming into force is specified and where it can be found.

How Coming into Force Is Specified

Through the legislative process, parliamentarians can choose which coming-into-force mechanisms are used for an Act by specifying this information in the text of the Act. If no explicit provision on the coming into force exists, the Act comes into force by default on the day it receives Royal Assent.

The three most commonly used coming-into-force mechanisms for federal laws are:

  • coming into force on Royal Assent
  • coming into force on a day fixed by the Act
  • coming into force by order of the Governor in Council.

A single Act might include multiple coming-into-force mechanisms to allow different provisions within that Act to come into force on different days or in different ways. Where a single section outlines all relevant coming-into-force information, it can typically be found at the end of the text. Where there are multiple such sections in longer Acts, they might be located at various points throughout the Act.

Tracking coming into force for a recent Act or provision requires knowledge of the mechanism used. Compilations are also available, but these are slower to be published or updated.

Coming into Force on Royal Assent

The final stage in the legislative process is Royal Assent. Traditionally, this was given in a ceremonial procedure in the Senate chamber. Since 2002, Royal Assent can instead be signified by written declaration. Regardless of the method used, the same sources are used to identify the date of Royal Assent and thus the date the Act in question comes into force.

Figure 1 – Royal Assent Ceremony

The Senate chamber in which the Royal Assent ceremony typically takes place.

Source: Parliament of Canada (ParlCanada),Senate of Canada Building,” Flickr, Photo taken 26 March 2019.

When searching by bill number in the LEGISinfo database, the date of Royal Assent  is usually displayed on the page for each individual bill. For information predating this database, the Journals of the Senate record the date on which each bill receives Royal Assent (see, for example, the “Written Declaration of Royal Assent” in the Journals of the Senate, 23 June 2022).

Figure 2 – Date of Royal Assent in LEGISinfo Database Entry

The date of Royal Assent is prominently displayed on the main entry page of the bill in LEGISinfo.

Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from Parliament of Canada, “Bill C-6: An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022,” LEGISinfo, Database, accessed 16 August 2022.

For an Act, the date of Royal Assent is included on the first page alongside the words “assented to.” Since 2001, see the Annual Statutes of the Department of Justice. For earlier Acts, see the Canada Gazette Part III, the bound print volumes or the digitized copies in subscription databases, such as HeinOnline.

Coming into Force on a Day Fixed by the Act

The date of coming into force for an Act may be a particular day established in advance (for example, “17 May 2023”). It may also be based on Royal Assent (for example, the second anniversary of Royal Assent). In most cases, all the necessary information is in the text of the Act along with the date of Royal Assent.

Occasionally, more complicated research may be necessary if the date depends on other factors. For example, the coming into force of one Act might depend on the coming into force of a provision in an entirely different Act.

Coming into Force by Order of the Governor in Council

The term “Governor in Council” means the Governor General acting on the advice of Cabinet. After making a decision, the Governor in Council issues an Order in Council (OIC). An OIC is a legal instrument formally recommended by Cabinet and signed by the Governor General. An OIC takes legal effect when signed by the Governor General, unless it specifies a different date.

After the Governor General signs an OIC, it is registered and numbered by the Clerk of the Privy Council. Following registration, an OIC containing coming-into-force information is routinely published in two places:

  • The Privy Council’s Orders in Council online database contains some information beginning in 1990, with information about the coming into force of Acts beginning in 2002. These are not official versions of the OICs. This is often the first available copy, as most OICs are published here after three working days. For coming into force specifically, the database provides an option to search by chapter number and year (as used by the citation to the law published in the Statutes of Canada) or by bill number (as used during the legislative process prior to Royal Assent).

Figure 3 – Search Options in the Orders In Council Online Database

Search by chapter number and year (after Royal Assent) or by bill number in the Orders In Council database.

Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from Government of Canada,Orders In Council – Search,” Database, accessed 12 July 2022.

  • The Canada Gazette Part II contains all regulations and statutory instruments enacted since 1947. Regular editions are published every second Wednesday. This is the official version of the coming-into-force information, which can be cited in a court of law. Orders relating to coming into force are included as statutory instruments (SIs) and indexed according to the number assigned at the registration stage. Browsing or searching by SI number, if known, is easiest. Otherwise, full-text searching is available.

Figure 4 ­ – Browsing in the Canada Gazette

Browse by statutory instrument (SI) number in the Canada Gazette.

Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from Government of Canada, Canada Gazette, Part II: Volume 156, accessed 16 August 2022.

For historical research, a list of coming-into-force proclamations and OICs relating to coming into force was published in the paper volumes of the Statutes of Canada from 1920 through 2016. The 1920 list contains information for 1907 to 1920.

Under the Statutes Repeal Act, any Acts that have not been brought into force by order of the Governor in Council within 10 years of receiving Royal Assent can be repealed. For those cases, the Minister of Justice tables an Annual Report at the start of the year listing any provisions that will be repealed at the end of the year. The repeals occur on 31 December with notice provided afterwards in the Canada Gazette Part I.

Consolidated Information

In legal research, consolidation occurs when all various amendments to an Act are combined into a single coherent document. The consolidated version of an Act includes all its amendments.

The Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers is published by the Department of Justice. It provides an alphabetical list of public Acts going back to the Revised Statutes of Canada 1985 along with consolidated Acts passed since 1985. The Table includes a list of amendments to each Act along with a list of coming-into-force entries for each of the amending provisions; they are labelled “CIF.” The Table includes only current information, meaning that it excludes legislation that has since been repealed.

Figure 5 – Parts of an Entry in the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers

An entry in the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers contains a title and citation, section references and coming into force information.

Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from   Department of Justice, Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers.

Earlier versions of the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers can be found in the print volumes of the annual Statutes of Canada since 1992, after the index at the end of the final volume for each year. Earlier versions were published by the Canada Gazette Part III under the shorter title Table of Public Statutes. Although Part III did not exist until 1974, the earliest version of the Table includes information dating back to 1907.

Additional Resource

Bédard, Michel. Coming into Force of Federal Legislation. Publication No. 2009‑03‑E, Library of Parliament, 25 August 2015.

By Kate Sinnott, Library of Parliament

Categories: Government, Parliament and politics, Law, justice and rights

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