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Lesson 2.2: Creating Laws in Saskatchewan

Students will understand how provincial governments create statutory laws.

Teacher's Background Information: Statutory Law vs. Common Law
Most of us think that the laws in Canada are passed by the legislative branch of government: parliament or provincial legislatures. And we’re right, because most of the important laws on the books are pieces of legislation—or statutes—which are examined, debated and passed by our elected representatives.

Some statutes passed by Saskatchewan’s legislature are The Education Act, which frames how Kindergarten to Grade 12 education is provided in Saskatchewan, or The Consumer Protection and Business Practices Act, which sets out obligations and responsibilities of businesses and consumers in their transactions.

Governments try to make statutes that are easy to understand and that apply to many situations. This is often a difficult task. The words or phrases used in a law may not always be clear. The judicial branch of government may be asked to interpret or define the meaning of these words. When judges interpret a statute, they are using a system of justice known as common law or case law.

Common law—the practice of looking at judges’ past decisions to make a ruling—comes from a time in England before there was a parliament with the power to pass legislation. Then, judges applied a common standard of rules to all cases heard in the country. These rules originated from local customs. Under common law, a judge deciding a case was bound by an earlier judge’s decision in a similar case in the same or higher court. These earlier decisions set precedents.

The practice of using previous decisions as a guide is part of the Canadian legal system today. When judges are asked to interpret laws, they look at the decisions of other judges in earlier cases. Similar legal problems are decided similarly, and lower courts will follow higher court decisions. This ensures consistency in the law.

Let’s look at a simple example. Suppose the provincial government wanted a park where citizens could, by law, enjoy nature in peace. To help achieve this goal, they passed a law stating “No team sports may be played in the park.” The law may seem clear enough at first. However, questions may arise in certain situations. Would the law apply to four people throwing a frisbee, a relay team informally practising for a track meet, or a group of children playing tag? It might not be easy to decide. If there was an earlier case in which a judge had ruled that young children’s activities or other informal games are not “team sports” that decision would act as a precedent for how a judge could decide on a game of tag. Judges will also look at what the lawmakers intended the law to do when it was passed.

This simple example helps illustrate that interpreting the law is rarely a straightforward matter. Most laws require interpretation, which is done by the judicial branch of government.

1. Review the purpose of having laws in society, as discussed in Lesson 1.2.

2. Read How Written Laws are Made.

  • Why is it valuable to review proposed laws three times?
  • What is the purpose of using committees to review bills after second reading?

3. To consider the role of private member’s bills, assign Private Members’ Bills in Saskatchewan.

4. To consider the role of the judiciary in interpreting laws passed by the legislature, review Lesson 2.1’s overhead The Three Branches of Government in conjunction with this lesson’s background information.

5. For additional consideration of the difficulties in interpreting laws, check out the activity No Vehicles in the Park.

6. For historical perspective on the development of statutes, check out Hammurabi’s Code.

How Written Laws are Made


Private Members' Bills in Saskatchewan