Charter Statement - Bill C-56: An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Competition Act

Bill C-56: An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Competition Act

Tabled in the House of Commons, October 16, 2023

Explanatory Note

Section 4.2 of the Department of Justice Act requires the Minister of Justice to prepare a Charter Statement for every government bill to help inform public and Parliamentary debate on government bills. One of the Minister of Justice’s most important responsibilities is to examine legislation for inconsistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [“the Charter”]. By tabling a Charter Statement, the Minister is sharing some of the key considerations that informed the review of a bill for inconsistency with the Charter. A Statement identifies Charter rights and freedoms that may potentially be engaged by a bill and provides a brief explanation of the nature of any engagement, in light of the measures being proposed.

A Charter Statement also identifies potential justifications for any limits a bill may impose on Charter rights and freedoms. Section 1 of the Charter provides that rights and freedoms may be subject to reasonable limits if those limits are prescribed by law and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. This means that Parliament may enact laws that limit Charter rights and freedoms. The Charter will be violated only where a limit is not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

A Charter Statement is intended to provide legal information to the public and Parliament on a bill’s potential effects on rights and freedoms that are neither trivial nor too speculative. It is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of all conceivable Charter considerations. Additional considerations relevant to the constitutionality of a bill may also arise in the course of Parliamentary study and amendment of a bill. A Statement is not a legal opinion on the constitutionality of a bill.

Charter Considerations

The Minister of Justice has examined Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Competition Act, for any inconsistency with the Charter pursuant to his obligation under section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act. This review involved consideration of the objectives and features of the bill.

What follows is a non-exhaustive discussion of the ways in which Bill C-56 potentially engages the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter. It is presented to assist in informing the public and Parliamentary debate on the bill. It does not include an exhaustive description of the entire bill, but rather focuses on those elements relevant for the purposes of a Charter Statement.


Bill C-56 would amend the Competition Act to establish a framework for the Minister of Industry to direct the Commissioner of Competition to conduct an inquiry into the state of competition in a market or industry. Under the proposed amendments, the Minister would be authorized to direct the Commissioner to conduct an inquiry if the Minister is of the opinion that the inquiry is in the public interest. The terms of reference for the inquiry would be proposed by the Commissioner, posted on a publicly available website for at least 15 days to give the public an opportunity to comment, and would have to be approved by the Minister.

Powers to compel information

The bill would amend the Act to make existing inquiry powers under section 11 of the Act available for the purpose of this new form of inquiry. Under section 11, the Commissioner can bring an ex parte application before a superior court or county court judge for an order requiring a person to: attend at a specified place to be examined under oath; produce records; or make and deliver a written return of information under oath. Before granting the order, the judge must be satisfied that an inquiry under the Act is being made and that the person has or is likely to have information that is relevant to the inquiry.

Section 7 of the Charter protects against the deprivation of an individual’s life, liberty and security of the person unless done in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The principles of fundamental justice include residual protections against self-incrimination and for the right to silence, which provide certain additional safeguards beyond those accorded by the more specific rights against self-incrimination in sections 11(c) and 13 of the Charter.

Section 8 of the Charter protects against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. The purpose of section 8 is to protect individuals against unreasonable intrusions upon their privacy. A search or seizure that intrudes upon a reasonable expectation of privacy will be reasonable if it is authorized by a law, the law itself is reasonable in the sense of striking an appropriate balance between privacy interests and the state interest being pursued, and it is carried out in a reasonable manner.

The power to compel an individual to attend at a specified place for oral examination under oath potentially engages the liberty interest under section 7 of the Charter. The power to compel information in the course of a market inquiry would also have the potential to interfere with privacy interests protected by section 8. The following considerations support the consistency of the bill with sections 7 and 8 of the Charter.

The power to compel testimony and information serves an important administrative purpose, namely, assessing the state of competition in a particular market or industry; it is not available for the predominant purpose of furthering a prosecution against the witness. Further, the Act incorporates protections against self-incrimination. Where an individual is required to testify or provide a written return of information under oath pursuant to an order under section 11 of the Act, the testimony or return cannot be used against the individual in criminal proceedings, with the sole exception of criminal proceedings related to perjury or providing misleading evidence.