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Legal Guide

Canada is a dualist nation. International obligations entered into by Canada, such as those contained in trade agreements, are not automatically incorporated into domestic law. Canada’s international obligations are incorporated into the domestic legal structure by the passage of specific implementing legislation, which will contain provisions to amend existing legislation as required. Individuals can only enforce obligations in Canada as they are implemented into domestic law.

Implementation of international obligations may require the cooperation of the provinces. Canada is a federal state where treaty-making power is vested in the federal government. Although the power to enter international treaties is exclusive to the government of Canada, the ability to implement obligations undertaken is necessarily limited by the division of powers between the federal government and the provinces, as set out in the Constitution Act (Canada) (see the discussion under the heading “Canadian Constitutional System”). If an obligation affects a matter that belongs exclusively to the provinces, compliance will require the province to pass implementing legislation. Given the wide breadth of powers that the provinces have, compliance with international obligations may not be within the federal government’s control. Regardless of whether failure to adhere to an international obligation occurs at the federal or the provincial level, only the federal government can defend Canada in an international forum.

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