Orders-in-Council

The Orders-in-Council database provides access to Orders-in-Council made from ​July 1, 1867 to 1924. The ​available images, from 1867 to 1916, are digitized from microfilm copies of the original documents.

A federal Order-in-Council is a legal instrument made by the Governor in Council pursuant to a statutory authority or, less frequently, the royal prerogative. All orders in council are made on the recommendation of the responsible Minister of the Crown and take legal effect only when signed by the Governor General.

Orders-in-Council address a wide range of administrative and legislative matters, from civil service staffing to capital punishment, and from the disposition of Aboriginal lands to the maintenance of the Parliamentary Library.

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Background

The Privy Council of Canada, which was established at the time of Confederation under the Constitution Act, 1867, is the successor to the Executive Council of the United Provinces of Canada. Membership in the Privy Council is synonymous with Cabinet membership because Privy Council members are heads or ministers of departments in the administration of the day. Although one becomes a Privy Councillor for life, the governor general acts on the advice of the Cabinet, not of the whole Council. The exercise of power through this system of executive advice and approval is identified in the Constitution Act, 1867 with the "governor-general-in-council" (commonly referred to as the "governor-in-council"). The most important documents produced by the governor-in-council are Orders-in-Council.

About Orders-in-Council

The term Order-in-Council refers to a legislative instrument generated by the governor-in-council, and constitutes a formal recommendation of Cabinet that is approved and signed by the governor general. Orders-in-Council are not discussed by Parliament before they have been implemented.

Orders-in-Council address a wide range of administrative and legislative matters, including federal appointments, transactions between the government and the private sector, the disposition of Aboriginal lands and other important policy items.

Orders-in-Council were assigned consecutive numbers according to their order of presentation to Cabinet during a calendar year. This number will be referred to below as the Order-in-Council Number. The first Order-in-Council for the year 1867, for example, is 1867-0001.

These numbers were recorded in a series of annual registers held in the
Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-d. These registers serve as the basis for the Orders-in-Council database.

Orders-in-Council are often accompanied by supporting documentation, such as plans and charts. A number of oversized plans and charts dating from 1867 to 1969, which accompanied certain submissions to Cabinet, were filed separately by the Privy Council Office and have been transferred to Library and Archives Canada. These documents were assigned the same registry number as the submissions they supported and are arranged by number within each year.

Despatches

Until the creation of the office of the Secretary of State for External Affairs in 1909, despatches of the Colonial Office directed to the government of Canada were handled by the Privy Council Office. Many diplomatic despatches required the consideration, response or approval of the governor-in-council and were answered by means of Order-in-Council. These despatch orders are accessible in the Orders-in-Council database.

Original despatch documents addressed by the governor-in-council are filed together with Orders-in-Council according to date of approval in the Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-a. However, a separate registry system (Series A-2-b) was used to record the receipt of despatches. This registry system has been incorporated into the Orders-in-Council database to identify despatch records, which can be distinguished from other Orders-in-Council by the letter that follows the Order-in-Council number; for example "1881-0549 E."

Other material relating to Orders-in-Council

Records for Orders-in-Council

The term "records" was used by the Privy Council Office to describe documents submitted to Cabinet as the official basis for an Order-in-Council. Records comprise memoranda, correspondence, petitions, reports and some maps, arranged according to the date of approval of the Orders-in-Council to which they relate. These documents are held in the Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-b. Since 1966, however, all supporting documentation has been filed with the respective orders or minutes of council in Series A-1-a.

After determining the submission number and date of approval of the Orders-in-Council that interest you, consult the associated records by obtaining a volume number through the use of a conversion list found with the RG2 finding aids. Currently "records" materials are not digitized or available online.

Dormant Orders-in-Council

The term "dormants" refers to memoranda, correspondence, petitions and reports submitted to the Privy Council, which did not result in the production of an Order-in-Council. They are arranged according to the numbers assigned to them upon receipt in the Privy Council Office. It was also the practice in the early years to file reports on work performed during the year, oaths of allegiance, and miscellaneous materials along with the dormants, and often without assigning them a registry number. With the exception of this miscellaneous material, the registers and indexes of Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-d serve as the finding aid to the dormants. To access the dormant records it is necessary to determine the submission number and date of receipt of the specific dormant, and to obtain a volume number through the use of a conversion list found with the finding aids.

Currently the "dormants" are not digitized or available online. However, you can use the Orders-in-Council database to determine which records became dormants by paying attention to the date fields on the results page. The lack of a Date Approved field indicates that the record was not passed as an Order-in-Council, and was transferred to the dormants.

Privy Council Office fonds

For more detailed information about Orders-in-Council and related material held by Library and Archives Canada, consult the descriptive record of the Privy Council Office fonds.

About the database

This database will allow you to search Orders-in-Council from the date of Canada's modern inception on July 1, 1867, through subsequent decades. The images in the database were digitized from microfilm copies of the original documents; these images do not reproduce colours appearing in the original documents.

Information in the database was transcribed from the annual Orders-in-Council and despatch registers maintained by the Privy Council Office. Copies of the registers can be consulted onsite (RG2, Series A-1-d for Orders-in-Council; RG2, Series A-2-b for despatches).

Language

Most of the documents in the database are written in English, the working language of Canada's federal government in the years before official bilingualism.

Acknowledgements

The Orders-in-Council database was developed in partnership with the Department of Justice Canada. Data management services were provided by Public History Inc., Laura Carter, Angela Duffett and Eva Holland.

Library and Archives Canada also gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose financial assistance through Canadian Culture Online (CCO) made this work possible.​

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