The past, present and future of law reform in Canada

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The story of institutional law reform in Canada has been described by one veteran as ‘somewhat troubling.’ It is a story not without significant successes: In Québec civil law, the codifications were remarkable achievements which realised sweeping and highly-esteemed reforms. Among Canadian common law provinces, Ontario founded the Commonwealth’s first law reform commission in 1964, and as early as 1967 Alberta innovated the now internationally-influential joint venture design of its commission. Further, Canada’s original national commission was notable for its ambitious pursuit of social issues, and the second national commission challenged conventional legal paradigms at unparalleled depth. Across the country, many law commissions were established. Yet, what is ‘troubling’ is how many, including long-established and prominent commissions, were since closed or constrained, impeded from accomplishing what they might have. Meanwhile, in Québec civil law, the codifiers’ repeated calls for a permanent commission have gone unheeded. What does the future hold for institutional law reform in Canada? In Québec civil law, there are some signs of movement towards reform continuity. An important question will be whether processes of continuous incremental reform can be developed and managed to alleviate reliance on overwhelming legal overhauls. Elsewhere in Canada, a few Canadian provinces that shuttered commissions have since re-established them in altered forms. The common themes of austerity, ideology, and alleged redundancy in the downfall of past Canadian commissions remain an ever present concern to the survivors, as they simultaneously confront newly emerging challenges. Time will tell whether, because of their experience in reforming themselves in response to their troubling story to date, Canada’s law commissions may be best-positioned to meet institutional law reform’s challenges of the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-261
Number of pages37
JournalTheory and Practice of Legislation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 4 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

ASJC Scopus Subject Areas

  • Law

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