Researching Legislative Intent

AuthorSusan Barker, Erica Anderson
chapter one
Researching Legislative Intent
Finding the intent behind a legislative provision is an important part
of the process of researching statutory interpretation. e judicial
interpretation of the meaning or intent of a few words in a statute
can change the outcome of a case and aect someone’s life and legal
rights.1 Knowing how to work with and research statutes and the
intent behind them wi help lawyers become beer in the courtroom
and help judges make appropriate decisions.
Librarians, judges, and lawyers oen use the term “legislative history,”
but with very lile consistency. ey could be using one of three mean-
ings. e rst could be tracking a piece of legislation back in time to
nd when a section was added or amended and what those additions
or amendments looked like. e second could refer to a coection of
a the materials that surround the creation of a piece of legislation, for
example, debates and commiee reports. And the third could be using
1 Stephen F Ross, “Statutory Interpretation in the Courtroom, the Classroom,
and Canadian Legal Literature” (1999–2000) 31 Oawa Law Review 39.
6 Researching Legislative Intent
the term genericay to mean both tracing legislation back in tim e and
nding the materials surrounding its creation.
Peter Hogg describes the common understanding of the term
legislative history as
[t]he term “legislative history” does not have a precise meaning . . . .
I use the term to mean the documentary evidence of the events that
occurred during the draing and enactment of a statute. It may
include the foowing elements:
1. the report of a royal commission or law reform commission or par-
liamentary commiee recommending that a statute be enacted;
2. a government policy paper (whether caed a white paper, green
paper, budget paper or whatever) recommending that a statute
be enacted;
3. a report or study produced outside government which existed
at the time of the enactment of the statute and was relied upon
by the government that introduced the legislation;
4. earlier versions of the statute, either before or aer its introduc-
tion into Parliament or the Legislature;
5. statements by ministers or members of Parliament and testi-
mony of expert witnesses before a parliamentary commiee
charged with studying the bi; and
6. speeches in the Parliament or Legislature when the bi is being
Using the term legislative history as an a-encompassing term to
describe both the evolution of a statute and the materials that went
into its draing can be confusing for legal researchers. In Suivan on
the Construction of Statutes, Ruth Suivan provides clear, authorita-
tive, and useful denitions that distinguish legislative evolution and
legislative history as separate terms, each with a precise meaning and
research process. It is these denitions that we wi be using as the
foundation for our discussion and that we wi rely on to describe the
process of researching legislative intent.
2 Peter Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, 5th ed (Toronto: omson Reuters,
2016) (loose-leaf updated 2016, release 1) at 60.1(b) 1–2.

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