January 25, 2008
The Honourable Maxime Bernier, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today announced that the
Government of Canada has changed the way it signs on to international treaties.
“As of today, all treaties between Canada and other states or entities, and which are
considered to be governed by public international law, will be tabled in the House of
Commons,” said Minister Bernier. “This reflects our government’s commitment to
democracy and accountability. By submitting our international treaties to public scrutiny,
we are delivering on our promise for a more open and transparent government.”
In the 2006 Speech from the Throne, Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to
bringing international treaties before the House of Commons to give Parliament a role
in reviewing international agreements.
A treaty creates legal obligations for Canada under international law and the
government believes that further engaging Parliament in the international treaty process
will give it a greater role in ensuring that these treaties serve the interests of all
Canadians. Under the new process, members of the House of Commons may review
and discuss the treaty—examining, debating or voting—before Canada formally agrees
to ratify it.
With the new policy, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will have the responsibility for tabling
all treaties to be signed for Canada.
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A backgrounder follows.
For further information, media representatives may contact:
Foreign Affairs Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
TREATY PROCEDURE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
The government intends to table all international treaties in the House of Commons
before taking further steps to bring these treaties into force. It is committed to giving the
House an important role in reviewing Canadian treaties.
The procedure is similar to procedures used for a long time in the United Kingdom and
The government will maintain the executive role in negotiating agreements.
Prior to the government finally binding Canada to an agreement, it will table the treaty in
the House of Commons. The Clerk of the House will distribute the full text of the
agreement and an explanatory memorandum giving the salient issues in the treaty to
each Member of Parliament.
The government will observe a waiting period of 21 sitting days from the date of the
tabling before taking any action to bring the treaty into effect. When treaties require
legislative amendment, the government is committed to delaying the legislation until this
21-sitting-day period has passed.
The House may debate the agreement, if it chooses to do so. The government offers
the House the opportunity to discuss treaties that it judges important.
This is similar to practice in the UK. It avoids an unnecessary and cumbersome
procedure where every agreement would be put to a resolution of the House.
Role of the House
Members of the House of Commons may wish to review and discuss the policy of the
The government will maintain the legal authority to decide whether to ratify the treaty. It
will, of course, give consideration to the view of the House in coming to a decision.
Very exceptionally the Government may have to bind Canada to the treaty before the
treaty is tabled, informing the House of the treaty at the earliest opportunity.