Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies


Ryan O'Connor


The debate over Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia, Canada’s last bastion of Sunday closing laws, has polarized the province during the last half-decade. Traditionalists supported the status quo for, inter alia, religious reasons, to reject consumerism, or to protect workers. These individuals were pitted against business groups, who favoured a market-based approach to determining retail hours; and some citizens, who desired greater consumer choice. It not often that a curt first-instance decision on an application challenging the validity of an order-in-council might warrant the attention of a case comment. Nevertheless, the decision of Richard J. in Sobeys Group Inc. v. Nova Scotia (Attorney General), which ultimately led to the end of the enforcement of Sunday closing legislation in Nova Scotia, is one such instance. Despite the court’s narrow holding – that the Retail Business Uniform Closing Day Act did not give the provincial cabinet the authority to craft regulations that prevented retail operations beyond a certain size from opening – the government publicly responded by permitting all stores to open on Sundays and statutory holidays. Subsequently, cabinet effected this response through an order-in-council excluding all retail operations from the ambit of the act. This comment will first provide a contextual backdrop for the decision in Sobeys, followed by a discussion of the court’s holding. It will then review the government’s response to the decision, and evaluate its implied claim that the court required the government to lift its prohibition on Sunday store openings. A discussion of the legislative-judicial dialogue, and its impact on political discourse, follows. The comment contends that while the province’s response to Sobeys was a victory for consumer and retailer choice while eliminating a regulatory anachronism, it is nevertheless symptomatic of the willingness of legislators in the era of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to rely on judicial pronouncements as a reason to avoid making decisions on divisive public policy matters – even in instances where constitutional rights are not implicated.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.