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By Carole Kennedy
Director of the Canada Gazette Directorate, 1994-2007
(includes excerpts from 160 Years of the Canada Gazette )
It is safe to say that the Canada Gazette is not the newspaper of choice at the breakfast table of Canadians. In fact, unlike Hansard (the verbatim record of the House of Commons debates), it is probably the least-known federal government publication- although both are essential components of Canadian democracy!
The Canada Gazette is the official newspaper of the Government of Canada. In it, you will find published new statutes (acts of Parliament) and regulations, proposed regulations, decisions of administrative boards and an assortment of government notices. Also included are private sector notices that are required by statute to be published so as to inform and engage the public.
The Past: A Little History
The Act of Union, which took effect on February 10, 1841, united Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada. On Saturday, October 2, 1841, the Canada Gazette became the official newspaper of the new government where new acts of Parliament were published.
Over time, the content grew to include other types of information such as selected treaties, notices of royal assent, proclamations and regulations, financial statements of chartered banks, corporate notices, notices of bankruptcy and a variety of miscellaneous notices such as judicial appointments.
A great deal of the history of Canada can be found in the proclamations that have been published in the Gazette. For instance, as the official newspaper of record, proclamations of war and peace were published in the Canada Gazette. Another example can be found in the issues from January 26 to March 16, 1901, that mourned the death of Queen Victoria by adding black borders on each page of the publication. As well, an "extra" edition published on January 30, 1901, announced that court mourning would continue until January 24, 1902, and directed the public to wear deep mourning attire until March 6, 1901, and half mourning attire until April 17, 1901.
But not everything was about government business. A notice published on June 26, 1847, announced that the wife of the Governor General, the Countess of Elgin and Kincardine, would receive ladies at her residence from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays.
The Present: The Canada Gazette's Role in Democracy
Publication in the Canada Gazette is official notice to Canadians. The law goes so far as to say "no person shall be convicted of an offence consisting of a contravention of any regulation that at the time of the alleged contravention was not published in the Canada Gazette" (Statutory Instruments Act, subsection 11(2)). There are other important notices that must be published in the Canada Gazette that involve private corporations, railways, trade agreements and customs tariffs, to name a few.
The Canada Gazette team is a highly organized, knowledgeable group focused on publishing the newspaper "on time every time." The team understands the implications and legal consequences of not publishing. There are many interesting stories about how the Gazette was published by candlelight when the electricity failed in the old Queen's Printer building; and how the team ensured it was published during the ice storm of 1998. The team is innovative in finding solutions that work around problems like the Y2K bug and the blackout of 2003.
The Canada Gazette we know today has not changed much in appearance from the first Canada Gazette of 1841, but the nature of its content is strikingly different.
You may think that only lawyers, bankers and government bureaucrats read the Canada Gazette. This was probably true of the period before 1986. At that time, the Government of Canada adopted an open and transparent regulatory policy that gave Canadians an opportunity to assist their government in developing regulatory programs that would benefit Canadian society. As a result, government authorities were required to consult stakeholders and Canadians in general when they proposed new regulations or changes to existing ones. This consultation process remains a priority today.
While the government consulted stakeholders, lobby groups and interested parties, the process was still difficult for the average Canadians to provide comments. This changed with the advent of the Internet, which provided new channels of communication between the government and its citizens. The Canada Gazette was first posted on the Internet in 1998; and since 2003, the online Internet version has the same official status as the printed copy.
The Canada Gazette website now highlights an up-to-date listing of proposed regulations and public interest notices that solicit public comments as never before possible (http://gazette.gc.ca/
consult-eng.html). Although the majority of Canadians tend to rely on the input of stakeholders and lobby groups to speak on their behalf, many ordinary Canadians visit the site and provide comments to federal government departments and agencies working at improving our laws.
Today, the number of pages downloaded from the Canada Gazette website averages around 15,000 daily. That number can climb to 86,000 pages a day when the subject is of particular interest to most Canadians (e.g., proposed regulations on herbal medicine).
In a society where ignorance of the law is no excuse, at the very least, Canadians have a right to know the current text of the laws and regulations that affect their daily lives. In a democracy, where citizens have a right to direct how the laws should be changed, it is not only important for government to provide access-it is an obligation.
How the Process Works
The following is a good example of how Canadians can have a direct impact on the laws and regulations that affect them. In 2000, following a court decision staying the charges against a man using marihuana to help control his epilepsy, the Minister of Health announced the government's intention to create a new regulatory initiative that would give Canadians the right to use marihuana for medical purposes.
When the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations were enacted and published in Part II of the Canada Gazette on July 4, 2001, (www.gazette.gc.ca/archives/p2/2001/2001-07-04/html/index-eng.html), Health Canada reported on the results of the comments received during the 30-day consultation period that followed the pre-publication of the proposed regulations in Part I. (Note: "pre-publication" is a term used by the Canada Gazette to indicate that while the regulations are indeed being published, they are not yet published into law.)
Several individuals indicated that a restriction against growing marihuana for medicinal purposes outdoors within one kilometre of schools or other places frequented by children was not feasible, necessary or reasonable. After review, Health Canada agreed that the one-kilometre restriction was too limiting and would likely prevent anyone from growing marihuana outdoors within any urban setting. The regulations were revised to prohibit the growing of marihuana for medicinal purposes immediately next to any school.
The Future: Getting the Word Out
The Canada Gazette team continues to explore ways of improving and expanding the services it provides to Canadians. Like many publishers of official newspapers, the Canada Gazette Directorate is moving toward using XML because it facilitates the sharing of data across many different information systems. This will increase Canadians' ability to access and store information both online and offline.
The Canada Gazette is also looking into providing online users with an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. Once implemented, users can choose to be notified when there are issues of interest to them. Users will no longer have to check regularly for amendments or changes to regulations, but can be notified automatically when such events happen.
These initiatives will certainly improve access to those who already know about the Canada Gazette, but what about the millions who do not? We hope anyone visiting Library and Archives Canada's new site will be tempted to learn more and will visit the official Canada Gazette site (http://gazette.gc.ca).
The dream for the future is a Canada where Canadian voters know the issues and are interested in the political platforms in this country. Why? Because when they were in high school, they learned about Canada and the regulatory process, and how they could help shape the future of their country.