Editorial changes in Revised Statutes

Occasionally you may see minor changes in the wording of your statute provision with little or no explanation. Perhaps there are no amendment breadcrumbs to follow, or you may simply see the word “revised” among the source notes. What gives?

This post will cover the status and history of non-substantive changes made to Ontario revised statutes and Federal revised statutes, and address how researchers can detect them

History and current state of changes to revised statutes and consolidations

In multiple Canadian jurisdictions, minor changes to statute revisions and consolidations can occur without amendment. These changes are made to “preserve a uniform mode of expression; …bring out more clearly the intention of the legislature; …[and] reconcile seemingly inconsistent enactments.” [1].

Revising Ontario statutes

In Ontario, the appointed statute revision commissioners have been given powers (via authorizing statute) to make non-substantive changes while revising statutes to increase clarity for readers [2]. See the list of authorizing statutes in our blog post about coming into force dates for revised statutes of Canada and Ontario.

Before the 20th century, commissioners’ editorial powers were limited to “revise, classify and consolidate”; however, Ontario made these powers even more explicit in the Revised Statutes Act, 1979 allowing changes to numbering, arrangement, punctuation, and language to increase clarity [3]:

3. In the performance of their duties under this Act, the commissioners may omit any enactment that is not of general application or that is obsolete, may alter the numbering and arrangement of any enactment, may make such alterations in language and punctuation as are requisite to obtain a uniform mode of expression, and may make such amendments as are necessary to bring out more clearly what is deemed to be the intention of the Legislature or to reconcile seemingly inconsistent enactments or to correct clerical, grammatical or typographical errors”

Currently, Ontario’s Chief Legislative Counsel can correct and make limited changes to consolidated laws on an on-going basis [4]. According to e-Laws: “Under subsection 42 (2) of the Legislation Act, 2006, the Chief Legislative Counsel may make limited, specified types of changes to consolidated laws (change powers)” and “If the Chief Legislative Counsel discovers a publication or consolidation error in a consolidated statute on e-Laws, he or she must correct that error.” [5][6]

Revising Federal Statutes

At the federal level, the 1974 Statute Revision Act broadened the powers of the Statute Revision Commissioners, permitting “minor improvements in the language”, “correct editing…errors”, “reconcile seemingly inconsistent enactments” and more [7].

Canada’s Minister of Justice is currently authorized by the Legislation Revision and Consolidation Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. S-20, s. 27(c), to “…correct grammatical and typographical errors, provided the correction does not change the substance of the enactment” [8].

Since 1975, the federal Miscellaneous Statute Law Amendment Program has provided a more formal process to make larger non-substantive changes to revised statutes. Every few years, multiple proposed amendments are gathered in a document, reviewed by House of Commons and Senate committees, and then introduced in Parliament as an omnibus bill. Due to the non-controversial nature of these changes, they are not discussed in Parliament like other proposed legislation:

“Once the bill is introduced in Parliament, it is subject to the ordinary enactment procedures; however, the bill usually receives three readings in each House without debate since the amendments contained in the bill have already been considered and approved by committees of both Houses.” [9]

How can I tell if a statute has been edited without amendment?

Depending on which set of revised statutes you are working with, here are some indicators that an editorial change was made between revisions:

“Revised” appears among the source notes

In some statute revisions, changes made by commissioners are marked with “Revised”. Per the R.S.O. 1990 user guide, “revised” means that “…the language of the former provision was significantly changed by the commissioners…” [10].

As an example, you can see some differences between R.S.O. 1990 and R.S.O. 1980 versions of the Ontario’s Bread Sales Act, section 12. However, under the bottom of the R.S.O. 1990 version, there is no source note pointing to an amendment in the Statutes of Ontario. Instead, the source note provides the citation to the previous R.S.O. 1980 consolidation and includes the word “Revised” (see image below).

Comparison of the 1990 and 1980 Ontario Bread Sales Act section 12. The left image shows section 12 in the Revised Statutes of Ontario 1990, highlighting the word “Revised” under the provision. The right image shows section 12 from the Revised Statutes of Ontario, 1980.

View the Bread Sales Act from R.S.O., 1990, c. B.11, s. 12 via the Internet Archive. View the Bread Sales Act from R.S.O., 1980, c. 48, s. 12 via the Internet Archive.

Tables of disposition vs. line-by-line comparison

To identify changes, some revised statutes come with a “Table of Disposition” which is often found as a schedule included in appendix volumes. Although the exact name of this table can vary across different years, tables of disposition can indicate which sections are repealed, superseded, omitted, renumbered, unconsolidated, and/or unrepealed.

As an example: under the R.S.C. 1970 version of section 94 of the federal Shipping Act, the source notes simply point back to section 94 in the R.S.C. 1950 version. However, the R.S.C. 1950 version of the Shipping Act includes section 94(8) “Tonnage Regulations”, whereas the R.S.C. 1970 does not (see image below).

What happened to section 94(8)?

Side by side comparison of the Shipping Act section 94. The left image highlights section 94(8) in the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1952. The right image shows section 94(8) is missing from Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970.

View the Shipping Act, R.S.C. 1970, c. S-9, section 94 via the Internet Archive. (The Shipping Act, R.S.C. 1952, c. 29, section 94 is unavailable via the Internet Archive.)

To find out what happened to the missing section, you can turn to Appendix 1: History and Disposal of Acts from the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970. Using the chapter and section numbers, you can look up the entry for section 94(8) of the Shipping Act. The remarks indicate that the provision was omitted (“Om”) as part of the 1970 revision (see image below).

Excerpt of the history and disposal table in the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970. The rightmost column indicates that section 94(8) was omitted in the 1970 consolidation of the Shipping Act.

However, using tables of disposition is not a foolproof method to identify changes made by revisers. According to Larsen, there have been instances of omissions in these tables [11]. Instead, conducting a line-by-line comparison of the legislation is recommended:

“Changes may be tracked down methodically through the lists in the schedules or appendices to a revision… But, for the average user of statutes concerned about changes that have been made by revisers, there is no alternative to making a line by line comparison of the revised statute with the statute it has replaced, using the legislative history note at the end of each section to trace it to the pre-revision statute, and possibly beyond that to its original enactment. A revised statute itself gives little or no clue to as to whether changes have been made to it in the revision process.” [12]

For newer consolidations, check the tables of correction or change notices

For consolidated statutes found on e-Laws, you may consult the table of consolidated statutes correction notices or the table of consolidated statutes change notices. You can search the name of your statute to quickly display the changes made to your Ontario statute by the Chief Legislative Counsel. In the example below, searching “Liquor Licence Act” in the table of consolidated statutes change notices describes a change made to section 1(1) of the act.

Screenshot of search results for “Liquor license act” in e-Laws’ table of consolidated statutes change notices.

For consolidations found on Justice Laws, you may consult the Corrections Report to view typographical and grammatical changes made to consolidated federal statutes and regulations. Like in the e-Laws tables, you can search the name of your legislation to identify the non-substantive changes made by the Minister of Justice.

References:

[1] Norman Larsen, “Statute Revision and Consolidation: History, Process and Problems” (1987) 19:2 Ottawa L Rev 321 at 341, online: CanLII <https://www.canlii.org/en/commentary/doc/1987CanLIIDocs3>.

[2] Ibid at 339.

[3] Ibid at 340.

[4] Alexander G. Geddes, “How to Change Laws without Changing the Law: Problems with the Presumption of Substantive Change for Plain Language Reforms” (2019) 51:1 Ottawa L Rev 109 at 143-144, online: CanLII <https://www.canlii.org/en/commentary/doc/2020CanLIIDocs581>.

[5] Ontario, Consolidated statutes change notices, online: e-Laws <https://www.ontario.ca/laws/consolidated-statutes-change-notices>.

[6] Ontario, Consolidated statutes correction notices, online: e-Laws <https://www.ontario.ca/laws/consolidated-statutes-correction-notices>.

[7] See Statute Revision Act, S.C. 1974-75-76, c. 20 s. 6 per Larsen, supra note 6, at 340.

[8] Canada, Typographical and Grammatical Corrections, online: Justice Laws <https://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/Corrections/>.

[9] Canada, Miscellaneous Statute Law Amendment Program, online: Justice Laws <https://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/MSLA/>.

[10] See “User’s guide to the Revised Statutes of Ontario, 1990” in Revised Statutes of Ontario, 1990, Volume 12 (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1990) at 13.

[11] See examples of Table of Disposition omissions in Larsen, supra notes 120-121, at 347-348.

[12] Larsen, supra at 347-348.