New Year’s Resolutions: How Laws Also Get a Fresh Start

Did you know that once Parliament in Ottawa has approved a federal law, it can still sit on the shelf for years before taking effect? This happens when the law doesn’t have a specific date for “coming into force”, which means to take effect.

Laws sitting on the shelf for 10 years can get cancelled in a clean-up that happens every December 31. But how does this work?

First Things First: How Do Laws Come Into Force?

Once proposed laws are approved by Parliament , they come into force in one of three ways:

  • on the date indicated in the law
  • on the date the Governor General approves the law
  • at a later date to be decided by the government

The law itself says which way it will come into force.

Sometimes the “later date’’ is never decided by the government, and the law sits on the shelf, approved but not in force.

Also, a law can be brought into force all at once, but also piece by piece.

Until a law is brought into force, it has no legal impact.

The Statutes Repeal Act and the Annual Clean-Up

The Statutes Repeal Act was created in 2008 to deal with laws that are in legal limbo. The Act says that the government must, on the last day of every year, cancel any federal laws, or parts of federal laws, that have not come into force 10 years after being approved by Parliament.

At the beginning of 2011, the federal Minister of Justice listed all the federal laws that could be cancelled on December 31, 2011. But Parliament still has a last chance to bring them into force before this deadline or to decide that a particular law should not be cancelled.