Modernisation of Royal Assent in Canada

By Richardson, Jessica J. | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Modernisation of Royal Assent in Canada


Richardson, Jessica J., Canadian Parliamentary Review


In June 2002 the Canadian Parliament passed a bill to allow for a new written declaration procedure to be used for royal assent. The Royal Assent Act was passed to facilitate the work of Parliament by enabling royal assent to be signified by written declaration while preserving the use of the traditional ceremony. The Act requires that the formal royal assent ceremony in the Senate Chamber be used at least twice each calendar year and in the case of the first appropriation bill of each session of Parliament. In all other instances, royal assent may now be signified by the Governor General or her Deputy by written consent. This Act modernizes the royal assent procedure in Canada, the last Commonwealth country to do so, while maintaining an important link to historical parliamentary practices through the continued use of the royal assent ceremony. This article looks at the history of royal assent, previous attempts to modernize the procedure and a detailed look at the new

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Royal assent is the final stage of the legislative process, the formal process by which a bill passed by both Houses of Parliament becomes law. It is only once royal assent has been given to a bill that it becomes an Act of Parliament and part of the law of Canada. In addition to being an important part of the legislative process, royal assent as a practice has strong symbolic significance in Canada. It is the moment during the legislative process when the three constituent elements of Parliament (the House of Commons, the Senate and the Crown) come together to complete the law-making process.

   "The time of Royal Assent is when the
   Queen-in-Parliament makes law. Then the
   representative of the Crown personifies the nation; the
   Senate embodies the federal principle; and the Commons
   represents the people through their representatives." (1)

As such, royal assent is an expression of the very essence of constitutional parliamentary democracy as it exists in Canada.

Traditionally, royal assent has been granted in Canada in the following manner: once a bill has been passed in the same form by both the Senate and the House of Commons, the Governor General as representative of the Crown attends Parliament in the Senate Chamber. The Members from the House of Commons are then summoned by the Usher of the Black Rod to the Senate. Once all parties are present, the bills that are to receive royal assent are presented to the Governor General or a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada acting as Deputy of the Governor General. The formal request is made in the following manner: "May it please Your Excellency: The Senate and the House of Commons have passed the following Bill, to which they humbly request Your Excellency's Assent", the title of the bill is then read and the Governor General or her Deputy signifies assent by a nod of the head.

History of Royal Assent Procedure

The practice of signifying royal assent to bills passed by Parliament began during the reign of Henry VI, (1422-71) when the practice of introducing bills in the form of petitions was replaced by bills in the form of complete statutes. The Sovereign would attend Parliament in the House of Lords and give his consent in person. This practice was continued until 1541, when the task of signifying royal assent was assigned to a Royal Commission in order to spare King Henry VIII the indignity of having to give royal assent to the Bill of Attainder, which provided for the execution of his wife Catherine Howard. From this occurrence, the practice of appointing Lords Commissioners responsible for giving royal assent developed. In the United Kingdom, the last instant of a monarch giving royal assent in person was in 1854 when Queen Victoria personally assented to several bills prior to proroguing Parliament. However, in Canada, King George VI gave royal assent in person to bills passed by the Canadian Parliament in 1939 during a visit to Canada.

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