What Did I Agree To? Contracts in our Everyday Lives

Contracts govern many aspects of our day-to-day lives—they are one of the fundamental ways that society is ordered. You likely engage in dozens of activities governed by contract every day, usually without considering the legal relationships you are entering into and engaging in.

At its most fundamental level, a contract is an agreement that will be enforced because it represents the communication of a commitment to engage in a reciprocal measured exchange – in other words, the exchange of valuable promises that in turn create obligations to do or not do something.

Contracts are everywhere!Communication and exchange are central to the formation of a contract. For a contract to be formed there must be offer and acceptance, and there must be consideration (something of value must be exchanged… contracts are not the same as gratuitous promises, where one of the parties receives no benefit of value).

While there are many more rules that relate to when and how contracts are formed this basic definition can help us understand when we might enter into a contract.

In this post we will discuss some everyday activities you likely engage in, and their contractual nature.

We can consider a few examples from my day today:

The first thing I did when I woke up was to check my phone and respond to emails. I have a contract with my phone company—in consideration for me paying a certain fee every month, they provided me with a phone, as well as with access to their cell towers. I accepted this offer when I signed my phone contract and began using their service.

When I checked my email account, I was in a contractual relationship with Google. When I send or receive content through a Google Service I give Google and its affiliates a worldwide license to use that content for certain purposes, per the Google Terms of Service. As consideration for those licences, Google provides me with access to its Services. Google offers these services publicly and I enter into a contract by creating an account and agreeing to the Google Terms of Service.

Dealing with email is hungry work, so I decided to grab breakfast at a campus coffee shop. I ordered a bagel and a large tea. The cashier told me that the total would be $5.05, which I paid in cash. Two minutes later I was handed a bagel and a large tea.

When I handed the cashier the money, I entered into a contract with the coffee shop. As consideration for a bagel and a large tea, I provided $5.05. I communicated my acceptance of their posted offer to provide tea and a bagel for $5.05 by ordering from the cashier and providing money. They fulfilled the terms of the contract by providing me with my food and beverage.

As you’ve seen, contracts have already been a part of just the very beginning of my day. Take a minute to think about your day so far: what have you done that has involved an offer, acceptance, and consideration? How many contracts have been involved with in the past hour? Can you think of one or more contracts that are allowing you to read these worlds right now?

Contracts are central to the ordering, not only of big businesses, but our everyday lives.

– Isabelle Crew

Who cares about constitutional law? — Fundamentals of Canadian Law 008

Canadian ConstitutionFor the average Canadian, the Constitution can seem pretty abstract. How does it affect me, a normal person, in a daily way? The answer is profoundly. For a clearer understanding of why public and constitutional law matters so much, we sat down with Jonathan Shanks, who has developed Law 205/705, Public & Constitutional Law, which launches this summer as part of the Certificate in Law. He breaks down why the constitution and public law matter so much to all of us, every single day.

How do you fit into constitutional law?

Woman and constitution intermixed

Your relationship with the Canadian Constitution may seem abstract, but it’s a document that has a daily effect on your life as a Canadian.

People sometimes think that public and constitutional law is an abstract concept – big ideas that don’t affect our daily lives.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

The rule of law, constitutional rights, judicial review, and federalism—these are central issues in public and constitutional law that affect us in a real and practical way.

At its most fundamental level, to understand public law and constitutional law is to understand power.

Specifically, how governments exercise power, and the relationship between the exercise of that power and the public.

Public and constitutional law establish the institutions and organs of government and grant them powers, but they also limit the exercise of government power. This ensures that power is not exercised arbitrarily, unequally, or absolutely. This defines how the government interacts with you!

Rule of Law

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the rule of law as a fundamental aspect of Canada’s Constitution. For example, in British Columbia v Imperial Tobacco, the Supreme Court of Canada stated that the rule of law embraces three interrelated principles:

  1. The law is supreme over all;
  2. Society must be governed by law;
  3. The relationship between the state and the individual must be regulated by law.

These rule of law principles provide stability and predictability in the legal system.

Constitutional Rights

Entrenched in the Constitution Act, 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides constitutional protection for human rights in Canada. The Charter includes provisions ensuring Fundamental Freedoms, Democratic Rights, Mobility Rights, Legal Rights, Equality Rights and Language Rights. The Charter is part of the supreme law of Canada. Laws enacted by Parliament and the legislatures and all government action must be consistent with the Charter. Any limits on Charter rights must be justifiable in a free and democratic society. The Charter also provides that “[a]nyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by [the] Charter, have been infringed” may apply to a court to have that infringement remedied. Charter rights are another important restraint on government power and how the law can impact us.

Judicial Review

Judicial review generally refers to the process through which the exercise of legal power can be challenged in the courts. The Courts can review both laws and government action for compliance with the Constitution and other legal norms. Courts are not the only bodies that can make legal decisions. Parliament and the legislatures have established a wide range of administrative tribunals.  These are designed to be less cumbersome, less expensive, less formal, and less time-consuming than courts. Tribunals can often resolve disputes in their area of specialization more expeditiously and more accessibly. Examples of tribunals include the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the National Energy Board, and many, many others. Because these bodies are delegated power by legislation, their authority is confined to the bounds of the delegation—another example of the rule of law at work! To avoid arbitrary, unreasonable, and biased, those who are affected by the decisions of these bodies can apply to the courts to have these decisions reviewed.

boot crushing people

The power the government has over us is limited and defined by the Constitution, and explored in public law.

Federalism

Federalism refers to the constitutional division of the power to make laws between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures. Federalism is one way that the Constitution recognizes the unity of Canada with the diversity among the provinces. Matters of national importance tend to be within the authority of the Parliament of Canada, while local matters are left to the Provinces. For example, the federal Parliament can make laws in relation to, among other things: trade and commerce, currency, criminal law, banking, and national defence. The provincial legislatures can make laws in relation to, among other things: property and civil rights in the province, municipal institutions, and the administration of justice.

Interpreting the division of powers can be legally complex, but on a day-to-day level it impacts whether you are interacting with the federal or provincial government.

— Isabelle Crew