What Is the Law?

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What is the law? This is probably not something you ask yourself very often. But the law is actually very important in our everyday lives. In Quebec, there are thousands of laws that directly affect what you do each day, and you can’t ignore them.

Why Laws Exist

Imagine that you’re on a deserted island. You’d probably be a little lonely, but you could do whatever you wanted without anyone stopping you.

If many other people lived on the island, you’d see that they have their own values, opinions and ways of doing things. If there’s no authority figure, people might try to impose their rules on everyone else and take justice into their own hands. It would be total chaos.

Most societies need at least some rules to ensure peace and safety. Here are examples of rules that guide behaviour in our society:

  • The rules of politeness tell us to say "thank you" when someone does something for us, or to say "hello" when we meet someone we know.
  • The rules of morality help us to know right from wrong.
  • But it’s the law that really regulates life in our society.

Law and Order in Society

The law is a set of rules of behaviour that members of society must follow. The law tells us what we must, must not, and are allowed to do. Every person, from the ordinary citizen to the prime minister, must obey the law.

People make laws. Some laws are based on old practices and customs. Others are based on the rules of morality, such as the laws that prohibit murder and theft.

The law affects almost all aspects of our lives. Some laws forbid serious crimes like murder, while others deal with more ordinary things. Here are some examples:

Unlike rules of politeness and morality, laws provide specific punishments for people who don’t respect them. Punishment discourages us from breaking the law. Here are examples of punishments found in our laws:

  • fines
  • prison terms
  • financial compensation for harm caused to another person

Where the Law Comes From

The law comes from various sources. As a society becomes more complex, so does the law. This is because rules are needed for more and more situations.

The main sources of law in Quebec are:


The Constitution The Constitution is the most important law in Canada. It governs the organization and operation of the country. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is in the Constitution. It ensures that the government respects our rights and freedoms.

Laws are made by "legislators." The Quebec national assembly is the legislator that makes laws that apply only in Quebec (Quebec provincial law). The Parliament of Canada is the legislator that makes laws that apply across Canada (federal laws).

Regulations and Bylaws

Often a law allows governments to make more detailed rules. These detailed rules are called regulations or bylaws. For example, a city bylaw specifies what time parks close.

Jurisprudence Courts provide peaceful solutions to conflicts. “Jurisprudence” (or case law) refers to the whole body of decisions that judges make. Jurisprudence helps us interpret laws. It also affects how laws change over time. For example, it’s because of a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that abortion is no longer a crime in Canada.

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.