How are Canadian laws made? A simple guide

Read Original Version (CLB5+) You are reading the Simple Version (CLB3-4)

Skip to:

The law is a set of rules. These rules help to make sure that the place where people live is safe and orderly. Laws also help to keep our freedoms safe. They help to look after our rights. In fact, laws touch almost all parts of our lives every day.

The rule of law is important. Freedom under the law is important. Thoughts about democracy are important. Respect for others is important. These are the main supports of Canadian democracy. The way of making laws is very important to how it works.

Now, let’s take a close look at how laws are made in Canada.

The Canadian Parliament and Legislature

The parliament for the whole of Canada is in Ottawa. This parliament creates laws for the whole country. These laws often talk about things like banks, rules for wrong actions, how to protect the country, and what being a citizen means. At the same time, each of the 10 provinces and three territories have their own legislature. These places create laws for their own areas. These are for things like education, health care, roads and others.

People who create laws for the whole country come from the House of Commons and the Senate. We call people in the House of Commons Members of Parliament (MPs). Citizens them in a vote. Senators are chosen and given their job.

People who create laws for a province are called Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Citizens also choose them in a vote. They speak for different areas. We call these areas “ridings” or electoral districts.

Ottawa and the provinces have a similar way to create laws. To make sure there is no confusion, the steps to the process on a country-wide level are explained below.

Steps in creating a law:

Step 1: Proposing and introducing a bill (First reading)

Everything begins with an idea. Any person can think of a new law, but usually, it’s the people in charge of the country, guided by the Prime Minister, who propose them. We call these ideas “bills”. Bills can be about rules for how people act, or changes to laws that are already there.

In the first step, the bill is shown in the House of Commons or the Senate. They say what the bill is for and what it wants to do.

Step 2: Second Reading

In the second reading, people who work in the Parliament or Senators talk about the main ideas of the bill. This is the time when they speak about what is in the bill. They talk about the good and bad parts of it. They also talk about how it will change things for different groups of people. If everyone agrees on the bill at this point, it is sent to a committee. The committee will look at it more carefully.

Step 3: Committee Stage

At this stage, a small group of people who make laws, known as the parliamentary committee, look at the bill closely. They read the bill very carefully and suggest changes. They also collect thoughts from experts and other people. They have meetings where people and groups can share their thoughts on the bill.

When this part is done, the leader of the committee sends a report back to the House of Commons or the Senate.

Step 4: Report Stage and Third Reading

Now, more discussions can take place. More changes can be suggested. If the bill is approved at the third reading, it goes to the other house (from House of Commons to Senate, or the other way around).

House of Commons vs. Senate
Both the House of Commons and the Senate must agree on the final version of the bill. If they don’t agree, they need to talk and find a solution. The bill might be sent back and forth between the two houses until they agree.

Step 5: Royal Assent

Canada is also a Constitutional Monarchy. This means that any new rules, or bills, need a yes from the Monarchy. The House of Commons and the Senate must both agree to the bill. Then, it is sent to the Governor General. The Governor General gives something called Royal Assent. Royal Assent is the last step before the bill becomes a law. This step is usually just a formality because it is almost always given.

When a bill gets Royal Assent, it becomes an official law. This is also called an “Act of Parliament.” This rule is now part of Canada’s system of laws. It can be enforced, or made to be followed, by government groups and the courts. Sometimes, more simple rules need to be made to help put a law into action.

It’s important to remember that making laws in provinces follow the same steps as federal rules. The only difference is they don’t have to deal with a group like the Senate. The steps from first reading to Royal Assent are done by the provincial or territorial legislature. When a bill becomes part of Provincial law, these rules are called Acts or Statutes.

What is your role in making laws in Canada?

Making rules in Canada is not only a job for people who work for the government. It’s very important that all of us also take part and give our thoughts. People in Canada can have an effect on how rules are made in many different ways:

  • Public consultation: The government often wants to hear what the public thinks about certain topics or rules that they are thinking about.
  • Petitions: People can start petitions to bring focus to certain problems or changes they want to see in the laws.
  • Contacting representatives: People in Canada can speak to their MPs, Senators, or MLAs to give their thoughts on rules that are being thought about.
  • Elections: People who vote can choose representatives who agree with them and care about the same things. This can change the way rules are made.

Sources: Canada’s System of Justice, Department of Justice; How a bill becomes law, Parliament of Canada; Laws, Bills, Acts, and Statutes, The Legislative Assembly of Manitoba; and How new laws and regulations are created, Government of Canada. Accessed September 28, 2023.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

The importance of having a will

Article thumbnail fallback

Having a proper well could save you and your family from financial disaster. Join this workshop to discover the importance… Read more »

Seeking legal representation in Manitoba

Smiling lawyer leaning on shelf in law library

Have you ever needed a lawyer or had a legal question you couldn’t get answered in a timely manner? Attend… Read more »

Law and Justice Workshops

Gavel, used in a court of law.

Want to learn more about the legal system in Canada? This series of workshops will discuss a variety of topics… Read more »

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.