What is a statute?

A statute is a law that is enacted (written down) by either the Federal Parliament or the Provincial Legislatures. Canadian law is made up of a combination of both common law (judge-made law) and statute, however, if the two are in conflict, then the statute will come first.[1]

Generally, before becoming law, a statute begins in the federal parliament or provincial legislation as a bill.

Federal Statutes

Once introduced in the House of Commons, the bill is read and is considered to have completed the first reading.

Next, it goes through a second reading during which the Members of Parliament debate the bill and vote on it. If the bill passes this second vote, it will go to a committee of the House. This committee will spend more time and look at the bill in more depth. They can ask questions or call in experts on the subject matter and make recommendations for changes.

Once the committee is done with the bill, it goes back to the House of Commons where the entire House can debate it and any Members of Parliament can make suggestions. This is when the third reading occurs and the Members of Parliament vote on it again.

If, and when, the bill passes this third and final vote, it goes through a similar process in the Senate where Senators can also ask questions and debate sections of the bill. Finally, if the bill successfully passes through both the House of Commons and the Senate, it will receive royal assent and will only then be considered law. [2]

A few examples of federal environmental statutes include:

  1. The Fisheries Act [3] which governs the management and regulation of both salt and fresh water fisheries in Canada;
  2. The Species at Risk Act [4] which governs the protection of animal species in Canada focusing both on preventing the extinction of future species and on increasing populations of endangered species; and
  3. The Arctic Waters Pollutions Act [5] which regulates arctic waters adjacent to land or Canadian islands in an attempt to limit pollution

Provincial Statutes

In Alberta, bills are brought to the legislature by Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). They are introduced as bills, and debated in the Legislature before being put to a vote. If the assembly passes a bill, it receives royal assent from the Lieutenant Governor, at which point it becomes law.

The process for a provincial statute is similar to the federal one but differs in one major way. Provincially, there is no Senate, so no second vote is required before a bill becomes a law.

A few examples of provincial environmental statutes include:

  1. The Public Lands Act [6]which governs activities on, and use of, public land throughout the province;
  2. The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act [7] which is used to support and enhance the protection of the environment in Alberta, for example through regulation of air pollution; and
  3. The Water Act [8] which focuses on managing Alberta’s water.

This list gives you a small taste of the wide variety of statutes that govern environmental law in Alberta.

If you want to learn more about some of these specific areas of law, we have a variety of topical discussions including Water Law , Species Law , and Toxins & Waste .

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[1] Neil Craik et al, Public Law, 2d ed (Toronto: Edmond Montgomery, 2011) at 71.

[2] Inba Kehoe, “How a Federal Bill Becomes Law – Canada” Queen’s University Library: Government Information (1997) online: https://guides.library.queensu.ca/gov/canada/federal/how-a-bill-becomes-a-law; Library of Parliament, “Guide to the Canadian House of Commons” (2016) Government of Canada online: https://decouvrez.parl.ca/sites/Learn/default/en_CA/Guide-to-the-Canadian-House-of-Commons.

[3] Fisheries Act, SC 2019, c 14.

[4] Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 29.

[5] Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, RSC 1985, c A-12.

[6] Public Lands Act, RSA 2000, c P-40.

[7] Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, RSA 2000, c E-12.

[8] Water Act, RSA 2000, c W-3.




Fundamentals of Environmental Law

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections


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