Implied Bill of Rights

The Implied Bill of Rights (French: Déclaration des droits implicite) is a judicial theory in Canadian jurisprudence that recognizes that certain basic principles are underlying the Constitution of Canada.

The concept of an implied bill of rights develops out of Canadian federalism. When provincial legislation intrudes deeply into fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, association or assembly, the provincial legislature is creating criminal legislation, which under the distribution of powers is reserved exclusively to the Parliament of Canada by section 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867.

Provinces cannot intrude in this area; if they do, such legislation is void and has no effect. Since provincial prohibitions touching on the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and association were declared unconstitutional by the courts, and in light of the expansive obiters in the leading cases, the writers were able to claim that there was a bill of rights implicit in the Constitution.

Some constitutional scholars focus on the Preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867 as providing the underlying reasons for an implied bill of rights. The relevant part of the preamble reads:

Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom [...]

Some authors have taken the view that the words "similar in principle" means that in Canada there must be a parliamentary system of government, acting under the influence of public opinion, of a free press, with free speech.[1] Thus, legislation which destroyed the citizen's ability to debate, to assemble or to associate freely would be contrary to Canada's democratic parliamentary system of government. This provides an additional underpinning for the claim of an implied bill of rights in Canada's Constitution.

Invoked more often before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted, it is nonetheless important when questions of parliamentary supremacy and the override power come into play.


Jurisprudence before 1982

The principal cases describing the extent of the rights are considered to include:[2]

In Alberta Statutes, Duff CJ held that:

Cannon J agreed, and also stated:

While Duff's and Cannon's dicta focused on the competence of the provincial legislatures, Abbott J later stated in Switzman that the same restrictions applied to the Parliament of Canada as well,[5] declaring that "Parliament itself could not abrogate this right of discussion and debate."[6]

The concept was expanded in Winner, which held that citizens were free to move across provincial borders and live wherever they chose to.[7] Roncarelli later held that public officials were subject to the rule of law, and therefore could neither suspend nor dispense it arbitrarily, but must act within their official powers.


The Supreme Court revisited the implied bill of rights theory in the Provincial Judges Reference.[a 9] The Court referred to both the Charter and the implied bill of rights theory to rule that governments may not compromise judicial independence. As outlined by the majority the proper function of the implied bill of rights after the adoption of the Charter is to "fill in the gaps" in the express terms of the constitutional texts.[8] However, while the Court stated that the theory was able to fill in the details of judicial independence, the Court actually relied on the Charter to do so.[9] The Court fell short of using the preamble to state new constitutional obligations or limitations. Lamer CJ's extensive obiter did return Canadian constitutional theory to the classical model of rights implicit in the Constitution which was first developed in Alberta Press, Saumur and Switzman, noting:

The ideas outlined in Provincial Judges were developed further in the Reference re Secession of Quebec.[a 10] Together these two cases have been interpreted to expand the reach of unwritten constitutional principles. The 1867 preamble and the Canadian Constitution (including its newer addition, the Charter) are read as a unified whole. The express provisions of the Constitution elaborate underlying, organizing principles. These unwritten principles can shape "a constitutional argument that culminates in the filling of gaps in the express terms of the constitutional text" and that in "certain circumstances give rise to substantive legal obligations" that "are binding upon both courts and governments."[10]

Notes and references


Notable cases

  1. Attorney General of Alberta v Attorney General of Canada [1938] UKPC 46 (14 July 1938), P.C., affirming Reference Re Alberta Statutes - The Bank Taxation Act; The Credit of Alberta Regulation Act; and the Accurante News and Information Act 1938 CanLII 1, [1938] SCR 100 (4 March 1938), Supreme Court (Canada)
  2. Boucher v the King 1950 CanLII 2, [1951] SCR 265 (18 December 1950), Supreme Court (Canada)
  3. Israel Winner (doing business under the name and style of Mackenzie Coach Lines) and others v SMT (Eastern) Limited and others [1954] UKPC 8 (22 February 1954), P.C., affirming Winner v SMT (Eastern) Ltd 1951 CanLII 2, [1951] SCR 887 (22 October 1951), Supreme Court (Canada)
  4. Saumur v City of Quebec 1953 CanLII 3, [1953] 2 SCR 299 (6 October 1953), Supreme Court (Canada)
  5. Chaput v Romain 1955 CanLII 74, [1955] SCR 834 (15 November 1955), Supreme Court (Canada)
  6. Switzman v Elbling and Attorney-General of Quebec 1957 CanLII 2, [1957] SCR 285 (8 March 1957), Supreme Court (Canada)
  7. Roncarelli v Duplessis 1959 CanLII 50, [1959] SCR 121 (27 January 1959), Supreme Court (Canada)
  8. The Fort Frances Pulp and Paper Company Limited v The Manitoba Free Press Company Limited and others [1923] UKPC 64, [1923] AC 695 (25 July 1923), P.C. (on appeal from Ontario)
  9. Reference re Remuneration of Judges of the Provincial Court of PEI; Reference re Independence and Impartiality of Judges of the Provincial Court of PEI 1997 CanLII 317, [1997] 3 SCR 3 (18 September 1997), Supreme Court (Canada)
  10. Reference re Secession of Quebec 1998 CanLII 793, [1998] 2 SCR 217 (20 August 1998), Supreme Court (Canada)


  1. Hogg 2003, p. 686.
  2. Mann 2009, p. 198.
  3. Alberta Statutes, pp. 133-134
  4. Alberta Statutes, p. 146
  5. Gibson 1966, p. 497.
  6. Switzman, p. 328
  7. Winner (SCC), pp. 919-920
  8. Provincial Judges, par. 104
  9. Provincial Judges, par. 107
  10. Secession Reference, par. 50-54.

Further reading

  • Gibson, Dale (1966). "Constitutional Amendment and the Implied Bill of Rights" (PDF). McGill Law Journal. 12 (4): 497–501.
  • Hogg, Peter W. (2003). Constitutional Law of Canada (2003 Student Edition). Scarborough: Thomson/Carswell. ISBN 0-45924085-4.
  • Adams, Eric M. (2009). The Idea of Constitutional Rights and the Transformation of Canadian Constitutional Law, 1930-1960 (PDF) (JD). University of Toronto.
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