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The law affects Canadians every day. There are, we know, laws against crimes such as robbery or murder. But there are also laws that apply to us when we pursue everyday activities, such as driving a car, renting an apartment, getting a job or getting married. In fact, there are laws concerning almost every aspect of our daily lives.

Many people believe that our laws are too difficult to be understood, except by lawyers. It is true that in a complex world the laws can be lengthy and technical. If a person needs help in understanding how the law applies to a specific problem, he or she can always consult a lawyer. But the fundamentals of Canadian law are based on common sense. These ideas and principles concern every Canadian and are something every Canadian should strive to understand. What is the "law"? Where does it come from? What is it for? How does it operate?

This booklet does not give exhaustive answers to these questions. Rather, it provides a brief outline of Canada's system of law and justice in an attempt to demystify it and stimulate thought and discussion. As members of society, we must decide what our laws will be. But, when creating new laws or changing old ones, it is important to understand the basic principles of our legal heritage.

A law is more than a command: it is an attempt to balance fairly the rights and obligations that people share as members of society. For example, when a law gives a person a legal right, it may also impose a legal duty upon that person, or upon another. It is the overall apportionment of rights, duties, privileges and powers, and how they are administered, that make up our legal system.

Our system of justice can function well only if people understand their legal rights. But people must also live up to their legal responsibilities, such as being willing to serve on a jury or coming forward to testify at a trial. Above all, citizens in our democratic society have a duty to learn as much as they can about the laws and about how the system of justice works. That is one of the purposes of this booklet.