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How Bills become Laws in Canada

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

A Short Primer

This information on the Canadian legislative process is provided to give the reader context about the various bills that were introduced to add gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and how far they made it through this process.

In order to become federal legislation in Canada, a bill must first be introduced in either the House of Commons or the Senate. Most legislation originates with the Government (governing party) and policy proposals requiring legislation are submitted to Cabinet by Minister(s). If Cabinet approves of the proposal, the responsible Ministry issues drafting instructions to the Legislation Section of the Department of Justice. A draft bill is prepared in both official languages and is approved by the responsible minister. The draft bill is then presented to Cabinet and if approved is ready to be introduced to Parliament.

A Private Member’s Bill is a bill introduced in the House of Commons by a member of parliament who is not a cabinet minister.

Once a draft bill arrives in Parliament, it receives its First Reading in the House of Commons which provides the bill with a number and introduces it to Parliament. The Second Reading occurs and MPs debate and vote on the principle of the bill and may decide to refer the bill to a legislative standing or a special committee. During the Second Reading’s Committee Stage, a clause-by-clause study of the bill is undertaken by the appropriate parliamentary committee. They can call witnesses and experts to provide it with information to help to improve the bill. Next comes the Report Stage where the Committee reports on the bill to the House where they clearly indicate any amendments being proposed. The House considers these amendments and votes for or against them.

The Third Reading is where the bill is debated and voted on, as amended. Once the bill has been read three (3) times in the House of Commons, it is sent to the Senate for its consideration.

The Senate also follows a Three Reading process for reviewing legislation.

As with the House of Commons, the Senate holds no debates for the First Reading, as that stage is merely to introduce the bill to the House or Senate and register it with a number. The Second Reading stage is like the Second Reading stage in the House of Commons (clause-by-clause review and sent to committee for a more in-depth review). The Third Reading is the final stage in consideration of the bill. Amendments similar to those moved at the Second Reading may be proposed, and amendments to clauses may also be moved at this stage. A bill must pass in the Senate before it can become law. Once it has passed, the bill can then proceed to the last stage of the legislative process, Royal Assent.

Royal Assent is the Sovereign’s acceptance of a bill. Royal Assent is granted by the Governor General (when he/she signs the bill) and that is the date that the bill becomes law unless another date is specified in the legislation.

Before any government sponsored bill makes it to the House of Commons it is reviewed by the Department of Justice.

If a bill ‘dies on the Order Paper’ it means that the parliamentary session has ended, and the bill is terminated. There is a procedure to reinstate such bills at the start of a new session.

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