Property and Civil Rights in the Province

AuthorPatrick J. Monahan/Byron Shaw/Padraic Ryan
The most important power assigned to the exclusive jurisdiction of
the provincial legislatures in section 92 of the Constitution Act, 18671
is “property and civi l rights in the province.” Virtually al l legislation
affects civil r ights in one manner or another. In a purely grammatical
sense, the subject “property and civ il rights” could be thought to en-
compass the entire f‌ield of law-making apart from crimin al law.2
In fact, this was generally the manner in which the Pr ivy Council
interpreted the property and civ il rights power. In the 1881 judgment
in Citizens’ Insurance Company v. Parsons,3 the Board upheld an Ontario
statute regulating the terms of insurance policies. Sir Montague Smith
observed that sect ion 94 of the Constitution Act, 1867 provided that Par-
liament could enact uniform laws rel ating to property and civil rights
1 The Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly the British Nort h America Act, 1867) (U.K.),
30 & 31 Vict., c. 3.
2 Of course, the sa me could be said of certain cl asses of subjects ass igned to the
exclusive juri sdiction of Parliament under s. 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867,
particul arly “Peace, Order and good Governme nt” and “Trade and Commerc e.
However, as discus sed in Chapters 8 and 9, the Priv y Council narrowed the se
federal clas ses of subjects in s. 91 and simultane ously interpreted the scope
of provincial aut hority over “property and civ il rights in the provi nce” in an
extremely broad manner.
3 (1881), 7 App. Cas. 96 [Parson s].
Property a nd Civil Rights in the Pr ovince 325
in the provinces of Ontar io, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, but not
in Quebec. In his view, the obvious intention underlying t he exclusion
of Quebec from section 94 was to ensure t hat matters regulated by the
Quebec Civil Code would not be subject to uniform legislation enacted
by the federal Parliament. Accordingly, it followed that the term “civil
rights” in the Constitution Act, 1867 (including section 92(13)) must be
interpreted broadly in order to ensure that the wide range of matters
dealt with by Quebec’s Civil Code would be excluded from the oper-
ation of section 94. Sir Montague Smith also observed that the terms
“property and civil r ights” had been used in their “largest sense” in the
Quebec Act, 1774 to encompass all matters apar t from the crimina l law.
This reinforced his conclusion that the drafters of the Constitution Act,
1867 had intended that section 92(13) be interpreted in a broad and
expansive manner.
In effect, the provincial authorit y over property and civil right s
became a de facto residuar y clause during the Privy Council era. The
Privy Council held t hat any laws regulating or dealing with lega l rights
in a province which, as a practical matter, encompassed all manner
of laws apart from the cri minal law — fell within the subject property
and civil r ights.4 The specif‌ic enumerated categories in section 91 were
treated as exceptions to the power of the prov inces under section 92(13)
to enact legislation dealing with legal rights. Federal legi slation in rela-
tion to matters such as bank ing (section 91(15)), bills of exchange and
promissory notes (section 91(18)), interest (section 91(19)), bankr uptcy
and insolvency (section 91(21)), patents (section 91(22)), and copyright
(section 91(23)) were upheld despite their incidental impact on prop-
erty or civil rights, since such matters were specif‌ically assigned to the
exclusive authority of Parliament. However, non-criminal enactments
that fell outside of the specif‌ic enumerations in section 91 were gener-
ally regarded by the Priv y Council as falling within provincial jurisdic-
tion under section 92(13), rather than within Parliament’s authority to
enact laws for the peace, order, and good government (POGG) of Canada.
Fields as the regulation of contractual rights,5 labou r relation s,6 busi-
4 It should also be noted th at provincial laws th at in pith and substance relate t o
“property and c ivil rights” may incident ally affect the federal powe r over crim-
inal law. For example, in Be dard v. Dawson, [1923] S.C.R. 681, a provinci al law
which authoriz ed the closing of “disorderly house s” (def‌ined as house s where
certain Crimin al Code offences had been committe d) was upheld as valid. For
a discus sion of the provincial authorit y to enact penal legislat ion dealing with
matters of moral ity, see Chapter 11, Section C .
5 Parson s, above note 3.
6 Toronto Electric Commissi oners v. Snider, [1925] A.C. 396.

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