The Law Across Time and Place

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Is the law in Quebec the same as in Ontario, the United States or Peru? Is the law today the same as it was 50 years ago? Of course not! The law is constantly changing, over time and across countries.


The Law Across the World

The Law Within Countries

Over seven billion people live in more than 240 countries and territories.

Within each country and territory, people interact in various ways. The rules that apply to these interactions are found in the law.

Since each country governs its own people, its laws apply only within its borders. This is called the territoriality principle.

Territoriality ensures a country’s laws are well-suited to the needs of its people. History, traditions and culture differ from one country to another and sometimes even within the same country. These differences must be respected when laws are made. This is why there is Canadian law, Cuban law, Senegalese law, Chinese law, etc.

Whether you’re allowed to do something or not depends on what country you’re in. Take abortion, for example. It’s allowed in Canada, but in Brazil it’s a crime in most cases.

The Law in Canada

The law differs from country to country and sometimes even within the same country.  This is true in Canada, where the power to make laws is divided between the federal parliament in Ottawa and the parliaments of each province and territory.

The federal parliament makes laws that apply across Canada. A provincial or territorial parliament makes laws that apply only in that province or territory. For example, the Civil Code of Québec applies only in the province of Quebec.

Important! Provincial and territorial parliaments can’t make laws on all subjects. They must respect the Canadian Constitution, which divides the power to make laws among the different levels of government.

The Canadian Constitution determines which level of government can make laws on which subjects. For example, only the federal parliament is allowed to make criminal laws, laws on aboriginal affairs and laws on national defence. So the Quebec parliament, called the National Assembly, can’t make laws on the Canadian army because the federal government is responsible for national defence. In contrast, only provincial parliaments can make municipal laws and laws on hospitals and schools.

International Law 

As explained above, a country’s laws govern interactions among its own people. But what law applies to interactions among countries? It is public international law. Public international law applies across countries, not just within a country’s borders.  

Public international law governs how countries conduct themselves on issues that are of interest to more than one country, or even to the whole world, such as the environment, the global economy and human rights. But international laws apply only to countries that have officially accepted them.

Another type of international law is called “private international law.” It applies to interactions between people in different countries or territories. Consider a dispute between a Quebecer and a New Yorker. Private international law decides whether Quebec or New York law applies to their situation.


The Law Across Time

Years ago in Quebec, stores were not allowed to open on Sundays, only people who were legally blind were allowed to use white canes, women were not allowed to vote or sign contracts, and children became adults only at age 21.

All this might seem ridiculous today, yet this is how it was. These are examples of laws that existed when your grandparents, or maybe even your parents, were your age.

The important thing to remember is that laws change over time and from place to place. This is how it should be. The world is constantly changing. Values, technology, society and the economy evolve over time, and the law must evolve with them.

In your grandparents’ time, people were not allowed to let their horses gallop down a street near a church. Today, the law sets speed limits for cars. Who knows? Maybe a hundred years from now, the law will control how high cars can fly!

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.