The separation of powers

In Canada, we rely on a comprehensive justice system. In fact, our democratic system consists of three independent, but interrelated functions: the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch.

What is the purpose of the legislative branch?

Federal legislative power consists of the House of Commons and the Senate. Each level of government adopts laws according to their powers, that is, the categories of subjects for which they are responsible. The division of powers between the federal and provincial governments is set out in the Constitution Act, 1867, in section 91.

The federal legislative power consists of two chambers:

  • the Senate, made up of senators appointed by the government, and
  • the House of Commons, made up of Members of Parliament elected by the Canadian population.

What is the role of the executive branch?

The executive branch (also called government) is the decision-making power composed of the monarch (represented by the Governor General), the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (also called the Canadian Ministry). The government can propose bills which then officially become laws when they are passed by the legislative branch, namely the Senate and the House of Commons.

What is the role of the judicial branch?

The judiciary is represented by the courts and has the function of resolving conflicts related to laws. It consists of courts of federal and provincial jurisdiction, and is completely independent of the legislative and executive powers.

Structure of the courts in Canada

The Canadian judicial system includes courts created by both the provincial and federal levels of government, each with a well-defined mission.

On the provincial side, there are:

  • Trial-level courts
  • Superior courts
  • Appellate courts

Federal Court structure includes: 

  • The Supreme Court of Canada
  • The Federal Court
  • The Federal Court of Appeal
  • The Tax Court of Canada
  • The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada

There are also administrative tribunals at both the provincial and federal levels. They are not part of the judicial system as such, but are often considered to be quasi-judicial because they engage in fact-finding and have the power to impact personal rights. Administrative tribunals are independent government organizations that play an important role in resolving administrative conflicts.

Depending on the type of litigation involved, individuals will be referred to one or another of these courts

However, there are many other ways to resolve a dispute without going through the courts.

Who appoints judges?

The federal government appoints judges to the federal courts, the superior courts of the provinces/territories, and the Supreme Court of Canada, while the provincial and territorial governments appoint judges to provincial and territorial courts.

The Canadian Judicial Council is responsible for federally appointed judges only