Applying Purposive Textualism to Quebec's Codes


  • Nicole Spadotto


The only approach to statutory interpretation in Canada is Driedger’s Modern Principle, which instructs a court to harmoniously interpret the text, context, and purpose when determining the meaning of a statute. While the Modern Principle provides a valid starting point for statutory interpretation, it has been critiqued as failing to provide a coherent methodology. The question, therefore, turns to methodology and what a harmonious interpretation might mean. Recently, various authors across the fields of both ordinary statutory interpretation and constitutional interpretation have pointed to a new methodological approach coming from the Supreme Court of Canada, where the text holds interpretive weight such that highly abstract purposes do not outweigh text. The Supreme Court has called this approach “purposive textualism” and some academics have called it the “New Canadian Textualism.”

The author explores the extent to which purposive textualism is compatible with Quebec’s codified civil law. Quebec is the only Canadian province to codify its law of general application, or jus commune, which invites the question of whether methods of statutory interpretation born from the common law or constitutional context are compatible with codal interpretation. Through an exploration of the mixed nature of Quebec civil law, history of statutory interpretation in the province, and the textual boundaries in Quebec’s codes, the author concludes that purposive textualism can be compatible with codal interpretation — particularly if the methodology accounts for the way a codal provision is drafted, which might cue the interpreter to look to its spirit.