We live in a world governed by law. No matter what we do, the legal system and its laws are part of everyday life. Our legal system strives to represent principles Canadians believe in and each generation influences the legal system by changing existing laws or bring in new ones.
In our complex society, law regulates our social, political, and economic activities from birth to death. Laws restrict who we marry, who gets our money when we die, whether we can put a swimming pool in the backyard, at what age we can purchase certain products, and even what ingredients should be in our soft drinks. Laws can change with time and according to location. For example, laws passed today might be quite different from laws passed in 1867, especially with respect to women’s rights and equal opportunity.
Laws permit us to live with other people in a safe and peaceful way. Disputes and disagreements are settled in court, not in the streets. If two people claim to own the same car, they do not settle the matter by dueling. (Dueling is illegal in Canada.) Instead, the court decides on the rightful owner.
In Canada, we believe in the Rule of Law, a three-part principle of justice.
- Rule of Law means that individuals must recognize and accept that law is necessary to regulate society
- It means that the law applies equally to everyone, including people in power.
- Rule of Law means that no one in our society has the authority to exercise unrestricted power to take away our rights except in accordance with the law.
While some laws serve a practical purpose such as governing property rights, others reflect the moral values of the majority of society. The relationship of law to moral standards can be controversial. For example, do laws forbidding the possession of child pornography violate an individual’s freedom of expression? Laws based on morality suggest the values, attitudes, and beliefs that Canadian citizens hold in common.
The ultimate goal of law may be to ensure justice for all, but what exactly is justice? Most Canadians would agree that equality is at the very heart of justice, but equality doesn’t necessarily mean applying the law equally to all people regardless of the situation. Should a person who breaks into an unoccupied cottage to get a rope to save a drowning friend receive the same punishment as someone who breaks into the cottage to steal the television?