skip to content

Operating in Canada:

Laws you need to know about


Canadian compliance laws are tough for a good reason

“Peace, order, good government.”

This was the phrase used in Canada's Constitution Act of 1867 to define the values of this new country. It stood apart from America's “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and France's “liberty, equality, fraternity” in that it was more focused on collective betterment versus individual achievement.

You can see this attitude play out across Canadian life, and in the laws and regulations governing how businesses operate in Canada.

Corporations are seen as part of the system that keeps the standard of living up for everybody. As such, they have a responsibility to individuals, communities and country.

While the specific responsibilities will vary by industry (the list of laws governing a forestry company and a marketing agency will differ greatly), they'll fall into five general categories:

  • Employee protection
  • Fair play
  • Customer privacy
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Bilingualism

Employee protection

This set of laws are constantly being updated as the world of work changes.

At the top is the government of Canada's Workplace Standards (a.k.a., Labour Laws) that define what an employer must provide employees, and how an employer must protect employees.

Among the many benchmarks set by the Standards are minimum wage ($15.55 as of April 1, 2022), the maximum time an employee can be forced to work per week (48) and the fines companies face for violating the Standards (up to $250,000 and a public naming of the charges).

Another set of laws that federally regulated entities need to be mindful of comes from the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) that aims to create a barrier-free country by 2040. Areas that fall under the ACA include:

  • Employment
  • Workplaces
  • Information
  • Communication
  • Procurement
  • Delivery
  • Transportation

In addition to Canadian Standards, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon all have their own labour laws, which can supersede the federal standards.

All these sets of laws can cause complexities, especially for companies that operate across jurisdictions.

This is why many owners and managers will seek guidance to ensure they comply with local and federal employee policies.

Fair play

Canada's Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTA) was updated in June 2021 to bolster Canada's anti-money laundering (AML) efforts.

Canadian businesses need to be vigilant and armed with AML solutions that comply with the updated Act. Even businesses with established AML controls should carefully review the new amendments to identify any gaps and ensure compliance.

Included in PCMLTA are steps needed to take for:

  • Accepting credit card payments
  • Verifying identities
  • Keeping records
  • Transacting in cash
  • Using foreign currencies
  • Disclosing activities
  • And more…

Because of PCMLTA's wide application, companies with significant exposure to possible non-compliance, and substantial fines, often seek out an advisor.

Customer privacy

CASL (Canada's anti-spam legislation), the laws governing privacy in Canada, are among the most stringent of its kind in the world. It applies to all electronic messages (i.e., email, texts, messages) sent by organizations in connection with “commercial activity.”

Among the challenges many companies have staying compliant to CASL is the breadth of actions deemed illegal. Companies with an active email list (35% of marketers send their customers three to five emails per week) will need to ensure their activities comply or face serious fines.

The other privacy-related set of laws binding businesses in Canada is the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (or PIPEDA). Like CASL, it's a large and detailed set of rules to govern the collection, use or disclosure of an individual's personal information. Like with CASL, business leaders will need to make sure they're in compliance with the ten overarching PIPEDA principles: accountability, identification, consent, collection, disclosure and retention, accuracy, safeguards, openness, individual access and challenges.

Environmental sustainability

Companies in Canada are subject to federal, provincial and municipal environmental laws—many of which overlap.

Businesses operating in Canada are expected to follow the federal rules set out in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

At the same time, each province has enacted some form of primary environmental protection law and has created a key environmental regulator, such as BC's Environmental Management Act, Alberta's Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Saskatchewan's Environmental Management and Protection Act, Manitoba's Environment Act, Ontario's Environmental Protection Act and Water Resources Act, Québec's Environment Quality Act, New Brunswick's Clean Air Act and Clean Environment Act, Nova Scotia's Environment Act, PEI's Environmental Protection Act and Newfoundland and Labrador's Environmental Protection Act.

It's a lot to be mindful of for any business owner—especially if you have operations across the country.

ESG priorities

Learn how ESG priorities are shifting the business landscape and how to get started on your journey.

Read more


While the first four sets of regulations are fairly standard across most of the free market world, Canada's bilingual laws are unique and wide-reaching.

For private companies, one of the biggest acts to be mindful of is the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. This compels all products sold in Canada to have English and French labelling on its packaging. If you operate in Quebec, you'll be subject to an entire other set of language laws, including the recently adopted Bill 96 with stricter language requirements for small businesses.

Need to meet regulatory and compliance obligations?

We can get and keep you on the right path.

Connect with our BDO advisor today

This site uses cookies to provide you with a more responsive and personalised service. By using this site you agree to our use of cookies. Please read our privacy statement for more information on the cookies we use and how to delete or block them.

Accept and close