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Statutory Interpretation

R. v. Wookey (Ont CA, 2016)

In this case the Court of Appeal states basic principles of statutory interpretation as follows:
[23] The modern principle of statutory interpretation is that “the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament”: Re Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd., 1998 CanLII 837 (SCC), [1998] 1 S.C.R. 27, at para. 21.

[24] The starting point for statutory interpretation under the modern principle is to determine the ordinary meaning of the text: Ruth Sullivan, Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes, 6th ed. (Markham, Ont.: LexisNexis Canada, 2014) at paras. 3.5-3.8 (“Sullivan”).

[25] Ordinary meaning “refers to the reader’s first impression meaning, the understanding that spontaneously comes to mind when words are read in their immediate context”: Sullivan, at para. 3.9, cited in Pharmascience Inc. v. Binet, 2006 SCC 48 (CanLII), [2006] 2 S.C.R. 513, at para. 30. Another way of describing ordinary meaning is as “the natural meaning which appears when the provision is simply read through”: Canadian Pacific Air Lines Ltd. v. Canadian Air Line Pilots Assn., 1993 CanLII 31 (SCC), [1993] 3 S.C.R. 724, at p. 735; Pharmascience Inc. v. Binet, at para. 30; Sullivan, at para. 3.9.

[26] In my view, the natural meaning that appears after reading through the relevant portion of the definition of “drug” under the FDA – particularly the portion that reads “drug includes any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in .. modifying organic functions” – does not in any way restrict itself to substances intended for medicinal or therapeutic use. Nor does it preclude the definition’s application to substances intended for recreational uses. It simply provides that a substance or mixture of substances, such as BZP, is a “drug” if it is manufactured for use in modifying organic functions, sold for use in modifying organic functions, or represented for use in modifying organic functions in human beings.

[27] However, the interpretive exercise does not end here. The modern principle indicates that statutory interpretation cannot be founded on ordinary meaning alone, but must be analyzed in context together with the purpose of the legislation, the greater statutory scheme, and the intention of the legislature: Sullivan, at para. 3.7.


[39] The responsible Minister’s introductory statement for the bill that resulted in the 1939 amendment further confirms that it was meant to expand the scope of the definition of “drug”. The Hon. C.G. Power, Minister of Pensions and National Health, explained the bill’s objective, as follows in the House of Commons Debates, 18th Parl., 4th Sess., Vol. 1 (26 January 1939) at pp. 331-32:
The object of this bill is to amend the Food and Drugs Act, to broaden its scope and clarify certain features with a view to increasing its usefulness.


It is the intention to extend the definition of drugs to include certain substances for which no medicinal claims are made but which may be injurious to human health.
[40] I note that the appellant claims that the trial judge erred in relying on this evidence. He says that, given the absence of the term “medicine” from the current version, this statement of intention cannot offer interpretive value. He also submits that the context and structure of the FDA was far different then.

[41] I disagree. It is well-established that such statements may be relied on as evidence of legislative purpose: see e.g. Canadian National Railway Co. v. Canada (A.G.), 2014 SCC 40 (CanLII), [2014] 2 S.C.R. 135, at para. 47. And, as explained above, the use of the word “medicine” when exhaustively defined had no impact itself. In any event, I fail to see how the absence of the word “medicine” from later versions supports the appellant or meaningfully distinguishes the Minister’s statement. The statement of intention here, in my view, provides cogent evidence of legislative purpose.

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