Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Contemporanea Expositio Definition:

That the meaning of words in a document are to be understood in the sense which they bore at the time of the document.

Sometimes presented in long form as contemoranea exposito est fortissima in lege.

In Perka, Justice Dickson adopted these words:

"The doctrine of contemporanea expositio is well established in our law. The words of a statute must be construed as they would have been the day after the statute was passed. Since a statute must be considered in the light of all circumstances existing at the time of its enactment it follows logically that words must be given the meanings they had at the time of enactment, and the courts have so held. The words of an Act will generally be understood in the sense which they bore when it was passed.

"This does not mean, of course, that all terms in all statutes must always be confined to their original meanings. Broad statutory categories are often held to include things unknown when the statute was enacted.... [F]or example, it was held that the Engraving Copyright Act of 1735, which prohibited ... in any other manner copying prints and engravings, applied to photographic reproduction — a process invented more than one hundred years after the Act was passed. This kind of interpretive approach is most likely to be taken, however, with legislative language that is broad or open-textured."

In Harvard College, Justice Rothstein of the Federal Court of Appeal wrote:

"[T[he doctrine of contemporanea expositio — that the meaning of words in an enactment will be understood in the sense which they bore when the enactment was passed."

In HMTQ, Justice Cohen deferred to the maxim in stating:

"As a general rule, the interpreter of a statute should place herself at the time of enactment."

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