Dalhousie Law Journal


Constitution Act, customs duties, interprovincial, legal history, Canada, goods, Gold Seal, Supreme Court of Canada


This article offers a new interpretation of s. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The author re-evaluates the traditional interpretation of s. 121, found in Gold Seal Limited v. The Attorney General of the Province of Alberta. That interpretation limited the application of s. 121 to prohibiting interprovincial "customs duties" but nothing else. The author analyzes s. 121 using a purposive approach. After reviewing the provision's wording, legislative history, legislative context and its place within the scheme of the Act, the article concludes that a purposive and progressive interpretation leads to a more robust role for s. 121. Thus interpreted, s. 121 would prohibit any impediment to the free flow of goods across Canada and the imposition of any obligation on the movement of Canadian goods that in its essence is related to a provincial boundary, subject to regulation of subsidiary features. The author also analyzes Gold Seal and other s. 121 jurisprudence. He contends that the Supreme Court's interpretation of s. 121 in Gold Seal is inconsistent with the modern purposive approach to constitutional interpretation and resulted from expediency.

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