Canadian laws you may have broken without even knowing

Canada is deemed by some to be a "unicorn" of sorts compared to other countries around the world. It possesses a particular brand of quirkiness and whimsy that is not only distinctly identifiable, but also highly intriguing to foreigners. Partly contributing to that eccentricity is a collection of obscure Canadian laws that, for some reason, still remain in effect today.

Of course, as with all laws, the ones listed below are subject to change at any time. But for now, the current state of our home and native land, legally speaking, is as follows:

Parliament Hill in Ottawa PXHERE/Jack78

Federal laws

Back in December 2018, Bill C-51 was passed to amend the Criminal Code of Canada. As a result, some obsolete laws were repealed, including ones that made old-fashioned duels, crime comics, and the false practice of witchcraft illegal. However, some unconventional Canadian laws managed to survive the purge and still remain in the code today. Here are some of the best ones:


Paying with too many coins

Don't be the jerk who tries to pay with piles of loose change. Saving the cashier the trouble will keep you out of trouble as well:

8 (2) "A tender of payment in coins referred to in subsection (1) is a legal tender for no more than the following amounts for the following denominations of coins: (a) forty dollars if the denomination is two dollars or greater but does not exceed ten dollars; (b) twenty-five dollars if the denomination is one dollar; (c) ten dollars if the denomination is ten cents or greater but less than one dollar; (d) five dollars if the denomination is five cents; and (e) twenty-five cents if the denomination is one cent."


Melting down coins

It's rare that anyone would need to melt Canadian coins, but unless you've been granted approval, you couldn't legally do so if you wanted to anyway:

11 (1) "No person shall, except in accordance with a licence granted by the Minister, melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada."


Crude crime comics

Let's talk about sex, baby—just don't be obscene about it. The act of making, printing, publishing, distributing, circulating, or simply possessing obscene materials is strictly prohibited:

163 (8) For the purposes of this Act, any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty, and violence, shall be deemed to be obscene.


Immoral theatrical performances

When it comes to the performing arts, particularly where theatre is concerned, you're going to want to keep your material on the PG side:

167 (1) "Every one commits an offence who, being the lessee, manager, agent or person in charge of a theatre, presents or gives or allows to be presented or given therein an immoral, indecent or obscene performance, entertainment or representation.


Swearing in public

Swearing in public can be considered an offence under the Criminal Code if the behaviour disturbs other parties in the nearby vicinity:

175 (1) "Every one who (a) not being in a dwelling-house, causes a disturbance in or near a public place (i) by fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing, singing or using insulting or obscene language is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction."


Frightened to death

Be wary of who you try to pull a scare prank on—you wouldn't want to accidentally commit a homicide:

222 (1) "A person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being." (5) "A person commits culpable homicide when he causes the death of a human being (d) by wilfully frightening that human being, in the case of a child or sick person."


Your ice hole, your responsibility

Unless you are well versed in the art of ice fishing, purposely creating a hole in the ice is probably not a good idea... But it's totally legal as long as you uphold your duty to safeguard it:

263 (1) "Everyone who makes or causes to be made an opening in ice that is open to or frequented by the public is under a legal duty to guard it in a manner that is adequate to prevent persons from falling in by accident and is adequate to warn them that the opening exists."


Stealing oysters from their beds

You would think that the act of stealing oysters is already covered under the Criminal Code's extensive laws on theft, but apparently it needs particular mention:

323 (1) "Where oysters and oyster brood are in oyster beds, layings or fisheries that are the property of any person and are sufficiently marked out or known as the property of that person, that person shall be deemed to have a special property or interest in them."


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Toronto buildings PXHERE

Municipal bylaws

Some of the most bizarre municipal bylaws across the country have been repealed in recent years. Nowadays, doing something like eating ice cream on a Sunday along Bank St. in Ottawa or whistling a merry tune after 11 p.m. in Petrolia won't land you a fine. But the following odd municipal bylaws are possibly still in effect:

Bagpipe battles

In Victoria, B.C., there are extensive regulations in place for street performers. Among them is a bylaw that prohibits bagpipe players to perform "at the same time as another street performer whose performance also includes bagpipes."


Grooming on the go

In Alberta, distracted driving laws are well defined by the Traffic Safety Act.

Among other activities, personal grooming such as flossing teeth, applying makeup, curling hair, clipping nails, or shaving is prohibited while behind the wheel.


Always tie your shoes

In Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan, you could get into deep trouble if you walk down the street with your shoelaces untied.

Former mayor Ron Osika told the Fort Times that the bylaw "could very well still be on the books," though he also mentioned that his staff just didn’t have the time to look it up and confirm it.


Your sidewalk, not ours

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, there exists a bylaw that states residents living on specifically-named streets must remove snow from the sidewalks adjoining to their properties within 48 hours.

For some reason, the city decided they weren't responsible for clearing the snow on just those streets.


Serious about bathwater

In Etobicoke, Ontario, there was apparently a bylaw that prohibited people's bathwater levels to be greater than 3.5 inches.

It's unclear whether that bylaw is still in the books; however, there is another bylaw pertaining to lodging houses that states the temperature of hot water serving all bathtubs cannot be lower than 43°C or higher than 49°C.


Purple prohibition

In Kanata, Ontario, the colours of garage doors and house doors are strictly regulated. The prohibited colour? Purple.

According to Donnell Law Group, it's one of the few places in Canada that enforces this kind of restriction.


Cut your grass... or else

In London, Ontario, you can't afford to get lazy with your lawns. In fact, being more meticulous than the average homeowner can help you avoid getting fined.

According to the city's PW-9 bylaw, grasses and weeds must not be over 8 inches in height.


Tree-climbing criminals

In Oshawa, Ontario, interfering with a tree or any part of a tree on municipal property is prohibited.

In this case, the act of climbing is considered a form of interference, along with "attaching, affixing or placing upon in any manner any object
or thing to a tree or part of a tree."


What's that noise?

In Sudbury, Ontario, attaching a siren to your bicycle is said to be illegal, though that may not be the case now. However, the city does have a section about "unusual sounds" in its bylaw for noise regulations:

"No person shall make or cause any unusual sound ... if the sound is likely to disturb inhabitants of the city."


Rules, rules, and more rules

In Toronto, Ontario, there are a few bylaws in place that are somewhat bizarre. For example, you cannot use light aircraft in a park, release helium balloons in a public square, or blast music from your loudspeakers.

You also need to keep track of your pet pigeons—they aren't allowed to perch in any place that isn't your private property.


A war against wastefulness

In Beaconsfield, Quebec, it is illegal to use drinking water to melt snow on driveways, grounds, patios, or sidewalks.

Apparently, the city rolled this bylaw out to "preserve the quality and quantity of this resource." Residents can be fined anywhere from $100 to $300 for a first offence.


Putting on a snake show

In Fredericton, New Brunswick, an animal control bylaw dictates that "no person shall have, keep or possess a snake or other reptile upon the street or in any public place." 

Best leave the snake sashaying to Britney Spears.


Taxi trappings

In Digby, Nova Scotia, a taxi bylaw requires taxi drivers to adhere to a strict dress code. It's so strict they aren't even allowed to wear t-shirts on the job.

Taxi drivers must be: "neat and clean in appearance, well-groomed and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, be dressed in pants, walking shorts, or jeans, or skirt, shirt or blouse with a collar, and shoes, all free from obvious wear."


Cowing around

In St. John's, Newfoundland, it is said that cows or are not allowed to be kept inside the house as pets.

They must remain outside with the rest of the livestock... No matter how tempting it may be to domesticate one.


Only short snowmen

In Souris, P.E.I, no one is allowed to build a snowman that is over 30 inches tall on a corner lot. It's likely that this bylaw was enacted as a safety measure during the winter months.

Whether snow women are considered part of that ban or not is up for debate.

Photo by YouTube (Ottawa Tourism)

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