A patron asks you to find (and update) a Canadian federal private Act. How do you do it?
The legal research literature lacks detail on the process, so I thought I would test the following approach with SLAW readers and ask if there is a better way. I also provide links to some additional resources on researching federal private Acts.
In the following example, I have (arbitrarily) picked the Stanmount Pipe Line Company (which would appear to no longer exist – at least based on Google searches; as such, it is not a very realistic example, but I needed to pick an example other than the one I was asked to actually research).
Question: Find the enabling legislation for the Stanmount Pipe Line Company and check for any amendments.
Step 1: Consult the most recent Table of Private Acts
This is the easy step. The Department of Justice has a consolidated Table of Private Acts available online its Laws site here, with the current Table covering 1867 to December 31, 2007.
Find the appropriate category for your entity (e.g., Banks, Boards of Trades, etc.). In this case, under Pipelines there is an entry for Stanmount Pipe Line Company that provides the following information:
Stanmount Pipe Line Company
– incorporated, 1955, c. 7
– 1955, c. 78, new s. 5; s. 6 amended, 1958, c. 50
[note: there actually was a typo in the foregoing online entry. The print Table of Private Statutes correctly referred to 1955, c. 78]
You then go to the annual 1955 Statutes of Canada and copy Chapter 78 and then also copy the amendments from the annual 1958 amending act (Chapter 50).
Step 2: Check for more recent amendments
Here is where the process is less well-defined. What we did was to:
a) Search on LegisINFO for any recent (Private) Bills
On LegisINFO there is a search box on the leftside stating “Find the Bill” (with the words “Search by title or bill number” in the search box). This search appears to cover bills from September 16, 2002 to current (which covers our period of concern, from the date the Table of Private Acts was last updated [December 31, 2007] to today’s date).
Searching on “stanmount” gets zero hits, which should definitively tell us that there have been no amendments to our Private Act from January 1, 2008, to current, being the date range not caught by the Table of Private Acts.
The way we know this works is to test the search for a known, recent private Act. For example, if you search on “scouts canada” on LegisINFO you actually get a hit to what we think is the most recent Private Act passed by Parliament, being the Scouts Canada Act, S.C. 2008, c. 38.1
b) Search recent volumes of Canada Gazette, Part I.
In addition to searching LegisINFO, we wonder if it is also prudent to search the Canada Gazette, Part I, by the name of your entity (e.g., stanmount) (their search screen is here). In this hyopthetical, “stanmount” gets zero hits so you can likely safely conclude there is no movement afoot to amend your Act.2
Question for SLAW readers: Is there a better, more official method of checking for updates to federal private Acts?
As mentioned below, the good news is that federal private Acts – and amendments to them – are becoming less common, thereby lessening the frequency by which one would need to research federal private Acts.
Legislative research is always icky. However, for esoteric points on federal legislation, the following online governmental guides can often be useful resources:
- House of Commons Procedure and Practice (Marleau and Montpetit)
For example, Chapter 23 – Private Bills Practice, of Marleau and Montpetit has the following tidbits on private Acts of possible interest to legislative researchers (reference omitted):
- Today, private legislation accounts for only a minuscule percentage of House business. Most private bills now deal with the incorporation of, or amendments to the acts of incorporation of, religious, charitable and other organizations and of insurance, trust and loan companies. In recent years, private legislation has been used for the amalgamation of insurance companies and the revival of small business corporations which have previously been dissolved. Although the reasons for this decrease in the passage of private bills vary, it is to a large degree due to changes to the general law, such as the Dissolution and Annulment of Marriages Act in 1963, and the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act in 1990, and administrative mechanisms found in present acts such as the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Corporations Act and the Bank Act.
- Most private bills are now introduced in the Senate: Since 1970, only six private bills have originated in the House, the last in 1978.
In particular, Chapter XV – Private Bills, has the following (similar) information in the Commentary to the Standing Orders applicable to private bills:
- The necessity for private legislation has diminished dramatically since Confederation because of changes in the general law.
- The Standing Orders specifically provide mechanisms to ensure that all persons who might be affected by the proposed legislation are aware of the intent of the promoters of the bill, have due notice of its nature and thus will have every opportunity to present themselves to dispute its passage, if desired.
- The person or persons who intend to apply to Parliament for the passage of a private bill are required to give published notice of their intentions in the Canada Gazette, and, in particular cases specified in the rules, a notice must be sent to certain officials by mail and published in leading newspapers (Standing Order 130). The rule regarding such notice requirements is required to be published in the Canada Gazette under the authority of the Clerk of the House once at the beginning of a session. Thereafter, the Clerk is to publish weekly in the Canada Gazette a notice referring to the previous publication of the aforementioned rule (Standing Order 129).
- Unlike public bills, which can be introduced on a motion for leave following 48-hours’ notice or upon motion for a committee to prepare and bring them in, a private bill can be introduced only on petition (Standing Order 135(1)). According to a principle established in England in 1832 and subsequently observed by the Canadian Parliament, a person cannot petition Parliament directly but must do so through a Senator or Member of the House of Commons. Thus, only a Member of the House has the authority to act as a sponsor for the bill during its passage in the House, although Canadian practice has also recognized that Ministers of the Crown should not initiate or promote such legislation.
- Although the Standing Orders do not require petitioners for private bills to table petitions in both the Senate and the House of Commons, this has generally been done. In recent years, the majority of private bills have been introduced in the Senate.