December 22, 2011 Articles

Friendly yet Foreign: Litigating in Ontario, Canada

As with most of Canada, Ontario's legal system is based on the common law, passed down from when the province was an outpost within the British Empire

by Douglas Harrison

Sitting on the north side of the Great Lakes, Ontario is Canada's largest province by population. Its capital, Toronto, is the country's largest city, and the center of its financial and business communities. As with most of Canada, Ontario's legal system is based on the common law, passed down from when the province was an outpost within the British Empire. (Quebec, the only exception, is a civil-law jurisdiction.) In many ways, U.S. attorneys would find practice in the courts of Ontario comfortably familiar. The current Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure were modeled after the U.S. federal court rules. However, there are a number of significant distinctions, principally due to constitutional or other historical differences. Canada has had a constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms only since 1982, and courts have been reluctant to use it to overturn long-standing common-law principles. And, as Canada is a member of the Commonwealth, courts frequently consider and adopt legal principles developed in jurisdictions such as England, Australia, and New Zealand.

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