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Within the first minute of this video it is asserted that, although the royal assent to Canadian legislation is normally granted by the governor general, in this case of the Online Streaming Act it was somehow done by the chief justice, Richard Wagner.

In a quick search with search engines, I find no corroboration of this assertion.

I know that normally the governor general does this, and obviously the king can do it if he wants to (and on a few occasions that's been done), but I'd never heard of the chief justice doing such a thing.

What's the story here? Have there been previous cases of the chief justice rather than the governor general granting royal assent to legislation? Under what circumstances is such a thing done? How is this authorized by the constitution?

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Royal Assent can be signified by one of two modes: (1) "in Parliament assembled"; or (2) "by written declaration." It was the latter mode by which Assent was signified on April 27, 2023:

On Thursday, April 27, 2023, the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, acting in his capacity as Deputy of the Governor General, signified assent in His Majesty’s name to the bills listed below. Assent was signified by written declaration, pursuant to the Royal Assent Act, S.C. 2002, c. 15....

Several justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as the Secretary and Deputy Secretary to the Governor General are deputies of the Governor General: see their commissions in The Journals of the Senate, 44th Parl, 1st Sess., November 25, 2021. (Note that their commissions currently exclude from them the power of "signifying Royal Assent in Parliament assembled," the first of the two listed modes of Royal Assent above.)

The power to appoint deputies comes from the Constitution Act, 1867, s. 14 and the Letters Patent constituting the office of the Governor General.

Section 14:

It shall be lawful for the Queen, if Her Majesty thinks fit, to authorize the Governor General from Time to Time to appoint any Person or any Persons jointly or severally to be his Deputy or Deputies within any Part or Parts of Canada, and in that Capacity to exercise during the Pleasure of the Governor General such of the Powers, Authorities, and Functions of the Governor General as the Governor General deems it necessary or expedient to assign to him or them, subject to any Limitations or Directions expressed or given by the Queen; but the Appointment of such a Deputy or Deputies shall not affect the Exercise by the Governor General himself of any Power, Authority, or Function.

Letters Patent, s. VII:

And Whereas by The British North America Acts 1867 [Constitution Act, 1867] to 1946, it is amongst other things enacted that it shall be lawful for Us, if We think fit, to authorize Our Governor General to appoint any person or persons, jointly or severally, to be his Deputy or Deputies... Now We do hearby authorize and empower Our Governor General... to appoint any person or persons... to be his Deputy or Deputies...

This is also mirrored in the provinces, where the Deputy Lieutenant Governor is typically the Chief Justice of the province.

Royal Assent is reported in the Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the Government of Canada. There are many other examples of Royal Assent being signified by the Chief Justice, acting in his or her capacity as Deputy of the Governor General.

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Wikipedia:

Under the Royal Assent Act, 2002, the alternative practice of granting assent in writing, with each house being notified separately, was brought into force. The speaker of the Senate or a representative reads to the senators the letters from the governor general regarding the written declaration of royal assent. As the act provides, royal assent is to be signified—by the governor general or by a deputy, usually a Justice of the Supreme Court.

(Emphasis added)

No mention of the identity of the person granting royal assent is to be found in the (rather short) Royal Assent Act 2002.

The constitution provides that the monarch may authorize the governor general to appoint deputies:

14 It shall be lawful for the Queen, if Her Majesty thinks fit, to authorize the Governor General from Time to Time to appoint any Person or any Persons jointly or severally to be his Deputy or Deputies within any Part or Parts of Canada, and in that Capacity to exercise during the Pleasure of the Governor General such of the Powers, Authorities, and Functions of the Governor General as the Governor General deems it necessary or expedient to assign to him or them, subject to any Limitations or Directions expressed or given by the Queen; but the Appointment of such a Deputy or Deputies shall not affect the Exercise by the Governor General himself of any Power, Authority, or Function.

Wikipedia on Deputy of the Governor General of Canada:

Currently, the secretary to the governor general, the deputy secretary to the governor general, and the justices of the supreme court are called upon to act as deputies of the governor general; when the latter are acting in this capacity, they are addressed as The Honourable the Deputy of Her Excellency the Governor General. The deputy's commission will read as follows: [...]

I couldn't find much more on this in official sources, neither on the site of the Governor General's office nor in that of the Supreme Court. But I did find a couple of news articles reporting the resignation of Governor General Julie Payette and noting that the Chief Justice would assume the role while the office was vacant.

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    publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2021/sen/Y4-441-4.pdf has a copy of the commission appointing Richard Wagner as Deputy to the Governor General, dated 3 Nov 2021 (p3-4 of the pdf)
    – alexg
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 8:34
  • Does that bit of the Constitution really mention "Queen" without any mention of a possible King?
    – MikeB
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 15:11
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    @MikeB : It does use the word "Queen" because it was enacted when Victoria reigned. I'm pretty sure there's some language about her successors. Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 17:06
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Jen's answer above is either insufficient or requires clarification (I don't have privileges to post comments at this time)

Jen points out that The Governor General has appointed Richard Wagner as her Deputy, as published in https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2021/sen/Y4-441-4.pdf. However, The text of the commission clearly and explicitly states "... all the powers, authorities and functions vested in and of right exercisable by me as Governor General, saving and excepting the powers of dissolving, recalling or proroguing the Parliament of Canada, of appointing members of the Ministry and of signifying Royal Assent in Parliament assembled"

It seems to me that Richard Wagner has the power to signify Royal Assent by written declaration. This limits him to giving assent to non-spending bills. (thank you @alexg for the clarification). Given that royal assent is done for the sake of tradition, and the GG does not have the discretion to decline giving assent, the practical function of assent is to stamp a "valid date" on new legislation, but nothing more. Ie, the only thing gained by delegating this power to Deputies is that the inevitable royal assent can be given with less delay than if only the GG had the power.

The commission also indicates the powers are available to Wagner "...whether I be absent form Canada or not", rather than only at times the Governor General is "unavailable". The two terms, "unavailable" and "absent from Canada" are clearly not interchangeable, but this point is moot in the case of the Wagner commission; I merely point it out because @Jen uses the wrong terminology. Legislating is important business. Let's get the language right. A more correct description would be "the Governor General has unconditionally delegated most powers...". The effect is that when a Governor General power is required, either Wagner or the General Governor can be contacted, with equal effect, at the discretion of the power seeker. It makes no practical difference for royal assent, but in other cases like making regulations, it could mean that a Deputy can make a regulation that is different than the GG would have made. I think there is reason for concern regarding the unconditional delegation of powers, but not because of royal assent powers.

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    I believe signifying assent "in Parliament assembled" is different from assent "by written declaration" - these are distinguished in the Royal Assent Act 2002 cited in another answer. The Deputy GG apparently can't do the ceremonial/traditional version in Parliament, but can do the formal written version, which is what he did in this instance.
    – alexg
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 9:15
  • The intended effect of the "in Parliament assembled" language, according to Royal Assent Act 2002, seems to be that spending bills require assent in Parliament assembled, while all other bills can be assented by either method. This means that GG deputies do have the power to give assent to non-spending bills. I shall update my answer; thank you! Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 9:55

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