Book Review: The Fundamentals of Statutory Interpretation

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

The Fundamentals of Statutory Interpretation. By Cameron Hutchison (with Contributors Eric M. Adams & Matthew Lewans). Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2018. xxii, 152 p. Includes index. ISBN 978-0-433-49492-8 (softcover) $95.00.

Reviewed by Erica Anderson
Manager, Digital and Web Content
Legislative Assembly of Ontario
In CLLR 44:3

Law librarians are experts at statutory interpretation research, researching legislative intent and compiling a legislative history in particular. They find the needle in the haystack, the one legal resource needed from countless possible resources surrounding a statutory provision. The Fundamentals of Statutory Interpretation by Cameron Hutchison is a welcome addition to the literature on statutory interpretation because it helps lawyers and researchers make sense of a uniquely Canadian approach to this area of law.

Hutchison takes a comprehensive, plain-language look at Canadian statutory interpretation in general and specifically at the modern principle of statutory interpretation (“modern principle”), which is the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) preferred approach to statutory interpretation. Driedger’s modern principle[1] is often referred to as it was stated in Re Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd, [1998] 1 SCR 27 at para 21: “Today there is only one principle or approach, namely, the words of the Act are to be read in their entire context, and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament.”

In the first foundational chapter, Hutchison explores what statutory interpretation is by defining terms and giving background on how and why statutes are interpreted in the first place. He then builds on the work of Driedger and Ruth Sullivan[2] by delving into the different aspects of the modern principle, first by breaking it down and examining it. Chapters 3 through 7 explore it from different perspectives, specifically textual meaning, contextual meaning, legislative history and intent, purpose, and temporal application. This examination will enrich an expert or academic understanding of statutory interpretation and the modern principle, and it will help a student grasp how Canadian courts use statutory interpretation today. There are ample references to case law and to legal literature for further understanding and authority. What makes this book stand out from the rest is a refreshingly accessible writing style with clear headings.

Further to the examination of these principles of statutory interpretation, Hutchison questions aspects of the modern principle and suggests refinement for courts, lawyers, and legal researchers to consider when applying it. Hutchison explains that each approach aims to uncover legislative intent, but that when two approaches appear at odds, another stream of inquiry must be employed to resolve the ambiguity. In particular, the external context and pragmatic implications of interpretation should be examined to help resolve this ambiguity (p 35).

The last two chapters examine statutory interpretation in administrative decision-making, judicial review, and constitutional interpretation. It may be helpful in subsequent editions of this book to see a table of cases and the application of statutory interpretation principles to Indigenous law. In future editions it also would be interesting to learn how the author’s suggested refinements to the modern principle are applied in cases.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an SCC hearing (R v Rafilovich on January 25, 2019) and was amazed to hear the judges and lawyers separately mention or quote the modern principle of statutory interpretation in their arguments, questions, and comments. In particular, an SCC judge commented that they had looked at the second reading of Hansard and committee debates for indication of legislative intent. No doubt a librarian helped in this research, and no doubt all involved will benefit from Hutchison’s approach to the topic in this new book. The Fundamentals of Statutory Interpretation will assist practicing litigators, academics, and students with questions of statutory interpretation, and it will be an important addition to academic, courthouse, government, and private law firm libraries.

[1] Elmer A Driedger, The Construction of Statutes, 2nd ed (Toronto: Butterworths, 1983) at 87.

[2] Ruth Sullivan, Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes, 6th ed (LexisNexis, 2014).

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