What Role Does “Fairness” Play in Statutory Interpretation?

  • November 20, 2018
  • Marco P. Falco, Torkin Manes LLP

For decades, the modern approach to statutory interpretation has required judges to discern legislative intent by examining the words of an Act in their “entire context” and in their “grammatical and ordinary sense”. But is there a role for concepts like trial fairness when Courts engage in statutory interpretation?

A 2018 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, British Columbia v. Philip Morris International Inc., 2018 SCC 36, affirms that when determining the meaning of statutes, Canadian Courts should prioritize the language and purpose the Act. Judicial concern for issues like the relevance of evidence and trial fairness have little to no significance in determining an Act’s meaning, unless those concerns are supported by a textual or purposive analysis of the legislation.

Determining Legislative Intent

Philip Morris involved an action by the Province of British Columbia (“British Columbia”) against a tobacco manufacturer, Phillip Morris International Inc. (the “Defendant”) pursuant to the Tobacco Damages Health Care Costs Recovery Act, S.B.C. 2000, c.30 (the “Act”). 

Under the Act, British Columbia has the right to bring an action against tobacco manufacturers to recover health care costs associated with Canadians’ consumption of tobacco on an aggregate basis.