1. Overview of Canadian Law

Public vs Private Law

Laws generally fall under two classifications: public law or private law. Public law refers to the relationship between the state and the people within it and includes constitutional laws, criminal laws, and administrative laws. Criminal law concerns crimes and their punishments. Constitutional law defines the relationship between governments (federal and provincial governments primarily) and the limits of governmental power over individuals. Administrative law concerns the actions and operations of government. Other examples of public law include environmental law and tax law.


For example, if someone steals items from a store, the criminal action is a violation of public law. The crime of theft affects the entire community (not just the store owners) and the crime is defined in public legislation.


Private law governs the relationship between individuals rather than between people and the State. Business contracts are typically developed by individuals who, by virtue of their business relationship, are involved in a private law agreement. The terms of the contract apply to the parties of the contract but not to others. If the parties have a contract dispute, the terms of the contract and the remedy for breach will apply only to the parties of the contract. In addition to contracts, other examples of private law include tort and property laws.


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Business Law and Ethics Canadian Edition Copyright © 2023 by Craig Ervine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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