Royal Assent to a Bill
The Constitution Act, 1867, states that the approval of the Crown, signified by Royal Assent, is required for any bill to become law after passage by both the Senate and the House of Commons. A version of the bill that is identical to the one passed by the two Houses is approved by a representative of the Crown and is given “the complement and perfection of a law”.
There are two ways in which Royal Assent may be granted—through a written procedure and through the traditional ceremony, in which Members of the House of Commons join their Senate colleagues in the Senate Chamber.
The Royal Assent Act preserves the traditional ceremony by requiring that it be used twice in each calendar year, including for the first appropriation bill in each session.
Royal Assent by Written Declaration
Under the written procedure, the Clerk of the Parliaments (the Clerk of the Senate) or his or her deputy meets with the Governor General or his or her deputy to present the bills with a letter indicating that they have been passed by both Houses and requesting that the bills be assented to. The bills are printed on parchment and are tied with red ribbons, except for tax or supply bills, which are tied with green ribbons.
The Governor General or his or her deputy signs the declaration granting Royal Assent to the bills. The Secretary to the Governor General then provides the Clerk of the Parliaments with a letter to the Speaker of each Chamber formally advising that Royal Assent has been signified to the bills listed in the schedule to the letter. The Clerk of the Parliaments immediately delivers the letters to the two Speakers.
Each Speaker notifies his or her respective House of the written declaration of Royal Assent as required by sections 4 and 5 of the Royal Assent Act. A bill becomes law only once both Houses have been notified of the written declaration. If the House of Commons is in session, the Speaker notifies the Members by reading in the Chamber the letter of notification regarding Royal Assent. While notice of Royal Assent through written declaration may also be given by publishing it in the Journals when the House of Commons is adjourned, there is no similar provision for the Senate. The Senate Speaker must read aloud in the Senate Chamber the letter of notification regarding Royal Assent in order for it to be deemed official notification.
The Clerk of the Parliaments then writes to the Canada Gazette to advise of the Royal Assent, listing the bills assented to.
The Traditional Ceremony
When a bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament and is ready to receive Royal Assent, a special copy is printed on parchment. The Clerk of the House and the Clerk of the Senate both sign the back of it. The Governor General’s secretary then informs the Speaker of the House that the Governor General or his or her deputy will be proceeding to the Senate to give Royal Assent to bills. The Speaker of the House then relays the message to the Members.
At the appointed time, the Usher of the Black Rod knocks on the main doors of the Commons Chamber, and the Speaker interrupts debate to welcome the Usher of the Black Rod, who informs the House that the Governor General or his or her deputy has asked them to proceed to the Senate. The Usher of the Black Rod then leads the House to the Senate, followed, in order, by the Sergeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace, and then the Speaker, the Clerk, the Table Officers, and the Members. The Speaker and the Members then gather at the Bar of the Senate.
A clerk at the Table in the Senate reads in English and in French the titles of the bills that are to receive Royal Assent. The Clerk of the Senate displays the bills and states: “In Her Majesty’s name, His/Her Excellency the Governor General (the Honourable the Deputy of the Governor General) doth assent to these bills”.
If there is a supply bill to be assented to, the Speaker of the House of Commons brings it into the Senate Chamber and reads a message in both official languages, asking that it be given Royal Assent. A Senate clerk goes to the Bar to receive the supply bill from the Speaker of the House of Commons and then returns to the Table.
The representative of the Crown consents to the enactment of all of the bills by nodding his or her head. Once Royal Assent is officially given, the bills have the force of law, unless they contain another date on which they are to come into force. The Usher of the Black Rod then turns to face the exit from the Senate, indicating that the ceremony is concluded. The Speaker of the House raises his or her hat, bows to the representative of the Crown, and withdraws from the Chamber with the Members, returning to the House of Commons.
Upon returning to the House, the Speaker takes the Chair and informs the Members that the Governor General has granted Royal Assent to certain bills. The House resumes the business that had been interrupted, or adjourns if the hour for adjournment has already passed.