Backgrounder: A Third Bill to Harmonize Federal Law with the Civil Law of Quebec

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Canadian Bijuralism

Canada boasts not only two official languages but also two legal systems: civil law in Quebec and common law in the other provinces and territories. Drawing on the advantages of each of these legal systems, Canada is rich in legal innovations and able to respond effectively to the complex problems of modern society. It is one of only a handful of "bijural" countries in the world - where two of the world's most important legal systems, the civil law and the common law, co-exist.

In an era of market globalization, bijuralism also provides a substantial competitive advantage. Approximately 75 per cent of the world's countries are governed by legal systems derived from either common law or civil law. Our practical knowledge of both legal systems helps Canada understand the legal standards, laws and institutions of other countries.


The coming into force in 1994 of the Civil Code of Québec, which replaced the Civil Code of Lower Canada, 1866, had a significant impact on the application of federal statutes and regulations that refer to the province's private law. Harmonization of federal legislation with the civil law of Quebec was undertaken in order to prevent difficulties in applying federal legislation arising from the reform of the Civil Code of Québec.

Harmonization involves reviewing federal legislation the application of which requires reliance on provincial private law. Where necessary, harmonization changes ensure that federal legislation takes into account the terminology, concepts and institutions of Quebec civil law. Harmonization not only improves the application of federal legislation in Quebec, but also increases the effectiveness of the courts and the public administration responsible for their application by making Parliament's intention clearer and reducing problems in interpreting federal legislation as it applies in Quebec.

The changes arising from harmonization are terminological. They do not change Parliament's intent.

The Government of Canada has taken other measures to improve the application of federal legislation in Quebec following the reform of the Civil Code of Québec; including the following:

  • In 1993, the Department of Justice began to study the impact of the Civil Code of Québec on federal legislation; it also adopted the Policy on the Application of the Civil Code of Québec to the Federal Government, which recognized the interdependence of federal law and the civil law and the need to adapt federal legislation to the new Code;
  • In 1995, the Department adopted a Policy on Legislative Bijuralism, which requires the drafting of federal legislation that touches on provincial and territorial private law so that the language of both versions reflects the terminology, concepts, notions and institutions of the common law and the civil law; legislative bijuralism is also a requirement set out in the Cabinet Directive on Law-Making;
  • In 1997, harmonization of federal legislation with the civil law of Quebec was undertaken by the Department of Justice;
  • The Federal Law - Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, (S.C. 2001, c. 4,) came into force on June 1, 2001 and the Federal Law - Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 2, (S.C. 2004, c. 25,) came into force on December 15, 2004;
  • Harmonization changes have been made in several tax bills assented to since 2000;
  • The Department of Justice has published bijural terminology records to explain the harmonization changes brought about by the two harmonization acts and other acts amending tax legislation (additional bijural terminology records will be published as further harmonization acts are adopted);
  • The First Nations Land Management Act, (S.C. 1999, c. 24,) was harmonized in 2007 by An Act to amend the First Nations Land Management Act, (S.C. 2007, c. 17;)
  • The new Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, (S.C. 2009, c. 23,) which received Royal Assent on June 23, 2009, was drafted taking into account the terminology, concepts, notions and institutions of the civil law and common law;
  • Bill C-20, An Act to amend the National Capital Act and other Acts, one of the purposes of which is to harmonize the National Capital Act, (R.S.C. 1985, c. N-4,) was adopted at Second Reading by the House of Commons on May 25th, 2010 and was referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.


Department of Justice Canada
October 2010