I have never formally studied law, but I intuitively feel that a "good law" should only ever cover one side of a conditional and never both. For example, if they legislate walking on both the left and right sides of the road, they can basically just prosecute you for existing.

I am not sure what this "principle" is actually called, or if it actually exists. Could anyone provide some insight? Basically the idea of no "tautology" laws.


1 Answer 1


There is nothing contradictory or improper per se in the legislature enacting a set of criminal prohibitions that together would criminalize a large swath of conduct. Some laws do just that very simply: e.g. it is culpable homicide to cause the death of any human being by means of an unlawful act.

You give an example example where the legislature prohibits walking on the left side of the road and prohibits walking on the right side of the road. They could have more simply just prohibited walking on roads. Or prohibited being outside. These prohibitions are clear and are not contradictory or tautologies.

However, those prohibitions would very likely be unjustifiable infringements of section 7 of the Charter. But that is an issue of whether the law substantively comports with principles of fundamental justice and not a problem with its logic.

Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Criminal law imposes a deprivation of the right to liberty, so criminal law must be in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice if is to not infringe s. 7.

Two principles of fundamental justice are that laws must not be arbitrary or overbroad (Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, para. 105). An arbitrary law is one that restricts liberty in a way that is wholly unrelated to its purposes. An overbroad law overreaches in only some of its effects: it targets some conduct that has no relation to its purpose. A law that criminalizes as much innocuous conduct as in your example is very likely arbitrary or overbroad, although I might just be lacking in imagination as to the legislative purposes that might require such a broad prohibition.

  • Potentially stupid question, but do you know whether your aforementioned two principles of fundamental justice apply to every type of law (e.g., tax law), or would it just be criminal law?
    – AlanSTACK
    Nov 14, 2023 at 8:24

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