By Jenneth Hogan
In a world that seems to be constantly changing, with new developments popping up left and right, there are bound to be omissions and loopholes found in legislation. No legislation can lucidly and specifically address all matters without any uncertainty as words are imperfect symbols to communicate intent. They are ambiguous and change in meaning over time. There also has to be room made for unforeseen situations, new technologies and cultures/special interest groups.
Statutory interpretation is crucial under these circumstances in order to resolve those ambiguities and decide how a particular bill or law will apply in a particular case. It is the duty of the judiciary to interpret the legislation without adding or implying anything that was not the clear intent of the lawgiver, at the time the legislation was produced.
There seems to be several rules provided in the past for this interpretation. They are as follows:
The plain meaning rule: The plain meaning rule states words of the statute are to be given their natural or ordinary meaning. This rule tends to be rather controversial as the strict application can sometime result in absurd outcomes. An example of such can be seen in R v. Harris (1836) where the defendant had bit off his victim’s nose. Because the statute made it an offence ‘to stab cut or wound’ the court held that under the plain meaning rule the act of biting did not come within the meaning of stab cut or wound as these words implied an instrument had to be used. The defendant’s conviction was overturned.
The golden rule: The golden rule permits the courts to depart from the plain meaning rule if the meaning leads to consequences it considers to be absurd or ambiguous.
This was propounded in Grey v. Pearson (1857) where Lord Wensleydale stated
“ In construing… statutes… the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity, or some repugnance or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument, in which case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified, so as to avoid the absurdity and inconsistency, but no farther.” 1
The degree of absurdity or ambiguity necessary to exercise the golden rule is determined on a case by case basis by the individual judge in question.
The mischief rule: In Construction of Statutes, Elmer Driedger defines the mischief rule as follows:
“ A statute is to be so construed as to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy, thus giving the courts considerable latitude in achieving the objective of the legislature despite any inadequacy in the language employed by it.” 2
The mischief rule has a narrower scope than that of the golden rule or the plain meaning rule, in that it can only be used to interpret a statute where the statute was passed to remedy a defect in the common law. In applying the rule, the court is essentially asking the question: what was the “mischief” that the previous law did not cover, which Parliament intended to remedy when it was passed? Legislative intent can then be determined by examining secondary sources such as law review articles and corresponding statutes and gives the judge more discretion than the previous set of rules.
In Canada, most judges prefer to rely on Driedger’s approach, referred to as “the modern principle” of statutory interpretation. This approach has since been endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada in a number of cases including Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd (Re),   where Justice Iacobucci, speaking for the whole court, wrote the following:
“ Elmer Driedger in Construction of Statutes (2nd ed. 1983) best encapsulates the approach upon which I prefer to rely. He recognizes that statutory interpretation cannot be founded on the wording of the legislation alone. At p. 87 he states: “Today there is only one principle or approach, namely, the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament.”
Driedger, E.A. Construction of Statutes. Butterworth & Co. (Canada) Ltd., 1983
Emanuel, Lazar. Latin for Lawyers: The Language of the Law (New York: Aspen Publishers, 1999).
 Grey v Pearson (1857) 6 HLC 61, 106 per Lord Wensleydale
 Driedger, E.A. Construction of Statutes. Butterworth & Co. (Canada) Ltd., 1983, p. 1