Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Ambiguity Definition:

Where a word or phrase is capable of two or more meanings and which, in the context, raises doubt or uncertainty as to which is intended.

Determining the existence of an ambiguity is essential in the construction (interpretation) of contracts and statutes. Then, and only then, the Court will assert its authority to determine the legal meaning of the ambiguous statement.

In Bell Express Vu, at ¶29, Justice Iacobucci adopted these words, for the majority of Canada's Supreme Court:

"What, then, in law is an ambiguity? To answer, an ambiguity must be real. The words of the provision must be reasonably capable of more than one meaning. By necessity, however, one must consider the entire context of a provision before one can determine if it is reasonably capable of multiple interpretations....

"It is only when genuine ambiguity arises between two or more plausible readings, each equally in accordance with the intentions of the statute, that the courts need to resort to external interpretive aids, to which I would add, including other principles of interpretation."


In Re Geneva Steel, Justice Ebel adopted this wording:

"An ambiguity exists when a statute is capable of being understood by reasonably-informed persons in two or more different senses."

In USWA, Justice Grange of Ontario wrote:

"An ambiguity whether patent or latent implies at least two meanings of one word or phrase.

"A patent ambiguity is an ambiguity on its face.

"A latent ambiguity does not become one until evidence shows it to be so."

In the context of an insurance policy, in American National Fire Insurance, Justice Manion of the US Court of Appeals wrote:

"... ambiguity arises where the policy is susceptible to more than one interpretation and reasonable persons would honestly differ as to its meaning.

"... an ambiguity is patent (if) ... it arises from within the document itself and cannot be resolved by reference to the document ... (and) the ambiguity is latent (if) terms of the policy are unambiguous but cannot apply to the situation in question because they do not fit the factual circumstances to which they are addressed, then the court may resort to extrinsic evidence in order to determine how the parties would have understood the agreement to apply to the situation in question."


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