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FactsEdit

The Government of Canada wanted to bring in a firearms registry. The Government of Alberta claims that this matter falls outside of federal jurisdiction because it deals with private property and thus is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

IssueEdit

  1. Is the regulation of firearms considered criminal law, and therefore under federal jurisdiction?

DecisionEdit

Appeal dismissed.

ReasonsEdit

The court says that there is a two-step process that is used to determine what jurisdiction a piece of legislation falls under:

  1. what is the pith and substance (purpose, essential character) of the legislation?
  2. where does the jurisdiction to regulate this type of matter lie – provincial or federal?

In the first step, you look to the stated purpose of the act, the mischief that is thought to be brought in line by the act, the effect that the laws will have, and to a lesser extent the parliamentary debates that took place during its passing. The purpose in the Firearms Act does not explicitly mention public safety, which is what the federal government claims is its true purpose. The mischief that the Government of Canada claims to be bringing into order is mostly domestic violence, and they say that the effect will be to improve public safety by reducing the number of guns that are available. However, Alberta tries to argue that the Act will not achieve the purpose, as criminals will simply not register their guns and still commit crimes, therefore all this is doing is causing a nuisance. The courts rule that although this does deal with private property, its main purpose is to further public safety. In the second step, there is a presumption of constitutionality, which means that the onus is on Alberta to show that the act does not fall under federal jurisdiction. The court states that in proving that something is criminal law three criteria must be satisfied:

  1. it must have a valid criminal purpose (order, security, health, morals, peace);
  2. it must be backed by a prohibition; and
  3. it must have a penalty (more than mere monetary compensation).

The 'Act satisfied all of these; its purpose was deemed to fall under the categories listed in step 1, it creates prohibitions on gun possession, and these prohibitions are backed by penalties. Therefore, the Firearms Act is criminal law, which falls under s.91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867 and is federally regulated.

RatioEdit

  • To test the jurisdiction a piece of legislation falls under, two questions must be asked:
    • what is the pith and substance of the legislation?
    • where does the jurisdiction to regulate this type of matter lie?
  • For something to be criminal law three criteria must be satisfied:
    • it must have a valid criminal purpose;
    • it must be backed by a prohibition; and
    • it must have a penalty.
  • There is a presumption of constitutionality in jurisdiction cases, requiring the party wishing to change the jurisdiction to demonstrate that the issue does not fall under the jurisdiction that it was regulated under.

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