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Lesson 1.2: Why Laws?

To understand why laws are required for societal stability, the purpose of creating laws will be examined.

Teacher's Background Information: Legislative Powers in Canada

Publisher, author, and political activist Mel Hurtig once stated that Canada’s premiers are virtual kings when compared to American state governors. The development of these “kingships”—the broad scope of jurisdictional authority held by Canadian provinces—can be traced back to at least 1840.

In 1840, the Act of Union united Upper Canada and Lower Canada into one legislative territory and renamed them Canada East (modern-day Quebec) and Canada West (modern-day Ontario). Because Canada East and Canada West were very culturally divergent, governing them under one legislature was difficult.

The difficulties of governing Canada East and Canada West as one jurisdiction has led to speculation that Confederation in 1867 was not only done to unify the British territories north of the United States. It also was done to divorce Canada East and Canada West from their legislative union and return some of their political autonomy. In this sense, Confederation both politically unified Canada and gave each province considerable power.

The distribution of powers between the federal and provincial governments was set out in the British North America Act, 1867. It was later renamed the Constitution Act, 1867.

Section 91 of the constitution gives the federal government control over areas such as:

  • banking
  • criminal law
  • broadcasting
  • the RCMP
  • air transportation
  • national defence
  • national parks
  • international trade
  • postal service
  • oceans and fisheries

Section 92 of the constitution gives provincial governments control over areas such as:

  • education
  • highways
  • health care
  • forestry and mining
  • agriculture
  • labour standards
  • liquor and gaming licences

Provincial governments delegate some of their powers to municipalities. Through bylaws and other actions, municipalities can deal with a wide range of matters such as:

  • streets and roads
  • property taxes
  • utilities such as water
  • sewage and garbage disposal
  • local police and fire protection
  • parks and playgrounds
  • building codes
  • nuisances, such as noise, junked vehicles and litter
  • store hours
  • curfews
  • animals and dangerous dogs

In addition to federal, provincial, and municipal governments, there are also various First Nations governments. The structure and authority of these governments differ with each nation. There are parameters for reserve governance under the Indian Act, but the full scope of power of each First Nation is largely determined by the agreement each nation strikes with the federal government. It can range from minimal governance to self-government agreements with Canada.

1. Draw a line on the board. At one end write birth and at the other write death. Ask students to think of various events of our lives, and write them chronologically along the line.

2. Have students think of laws related to those life events, and label them underneath the line. Some examples include:

  • birth: register name
  • walk: pedestrian laws
  • drive: licensing
  • graduate: educational standards
  • work: labour laws
  • marry: same-sex marriage laws
  • move: contract laws
  • retirement: prohibition of mandatory retirement
  • death: wills and estates

3. Discuss the resulting line and laws.

  • Do laws unnecessarily interfere with the right to live one’s life as one chooses?
  • When do public needs override individual's right to do what they choose?
  • What would life be like without laws?

Class also may explore what level of government has jurisdiction for each law to illustrate the distribution of powers in Canada.

4. Summarise the discussion with overhead The Purpose of Laws.

5. Read Case Studies on the Purpose of Laws, then assign Renting a Home in Saskatchewan. PLEA's Rent: The Student's Guide is helpful for this activity.

6. To better understand how law helps keep order in a democracy, check out Lesson Five: Freedom and Law in Democracy and the Rule of Law.

7. The Great Stink of London is an excellent case study on the purpose of laws. Find it in The Bathroom Barrister.

The Purpose of Laws


The Purpose of Laws

Case Studies

Renting a Home in Saskatchewan


What is Revolution?