Canada day and the Holidays Act

27 June 2018

Provinces across the country give employees a day off work on July 1st each year to celebrate Canada Day, the anniversary of the July 1, 1867 enactment of the legislation creating our great country.  However, in 2018, July 1 falls on a Sunday.  According to a little-known piece of federal legislation, the Holidays Act, RSC 1985, c H-5, in any year when July 1 falls on a Sunday, the holiday will be observed on July 2.

For employers in most provinces and territories, this means that Monday, July 2, 2018 must be observed as the statutory holiday, and Sunday, July 1, 2018 is to be treated like any other Sunday.  In addition, employers must be cognizant of applicable shops closing legislation that may require closure on either Sunday, July 1 or Monday, July 2.  For instance, in both Manitoba and New Brunswick, where Canada Day is observed on Monday, July 2 this year, retail closing legislation may require a business to be closed on Monday, but open as usual on Sunday.  As a result, many retail employees will have to work on Canada Day and will miss out the chance to celebrate the holiday with family and friends.  For business not affected by retail closing legislation, and those provinces without retail closing legislation (e.g. British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan), businesses can choose to be open on Monday, but must pay eligible employees premium pay for all hours worked.  Another issue arises for provinces with Sunday closing laws, which require certain businesses to be closed on Sunday, July 1 in addition to the closure on Monday, July 2 in observance of the Canada Day holiday, hurting the bottom line.  

The problems set out above have been solved in Nova Scotia, which recently passed legislation defining Canada Day in its employment standards and retail closing legislation as July 1, even when it falls on a Sunday.

The only other province observing the holiday on Sunday, July 1 in 2018 is Newfoundland and Labrador, which celebrates “Memorial Day” instead of Canada Day.  As a result, Newfoundland and Labrador takes the position that the Holidays Act, which specifically addresses Canada Day, does not apply to move the date of observance to Monday, July 2.  Memorial Day is defined in retail closing legislation as July 1, allowing the statutory holiday and retail closing day to align.  

Fortunately for Canadian employers, July 1 does not fall on a Sunday again until 2029 thanks to a leap year, thereby avoiding this confusion for the next 11 years

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