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Nov Advocate 2017

842 THE ADVOCATE VOL. 75 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2017 from “eats shoots and leaves”. In the first the comma separates three verbs; in the second the verb “eats” is followed by two objects,13 both of which are nouns. In the second sense a comma would be appropriate if a third object were included, such as: “eats shoots, leaves and berries”, but then there would be no possibility of a joke. However, some would argue that it should properly be “eats shoots, leaves, and berries,” in which the second comma is referred to as the “Oxford comma”. In this example it would likely be irrelevant but in the U.S. case referred to above it would, and did, make a significant difference, as the absence of the second comma means that the last two items are to be treated as one item with two variations.14 To add to the difficulties, when it comes to interpreting a statute, other factors come into play: the punctuation of the French version, legislative intent and other provisions of the statute can all be used to assist in interpreting the function of a comma or its absence.15 The courts can easily duck this issue by simply ignoring the presence or absence of a comma in determining the true intent of the legislature.16 It will never be possible to reconcile the various schools of thought on the use of commas. No doubt, depending on the reader’s viewpoint, this article has used far too many or far too few commas we probably haven’t helped — Ed.. A few might agree that the number is just about right. The important point is that a comma should serve a purpose and clarify rather than obscure the meaning of the text. Or should that be: clarify, rather than obscure, the meaning of the text? ENDNOTES 1. The author thanks Cam McKechnie for his comments on an earlier draft of this article. 2. It is likely that one or more of the aforementioned will find fault with the use of commas in this article. 3. One BC Court of Appeal judge was presented, on his retirement, with a box of commas by his colleagues. 4. O’Connor v Oakhurst Dairy No 16-1901 (13 March 2017). 5. Ibid at 2. 6. Ibid at 4. 7. Canada (Attorney General) v Sveinson, 2001 FCA 315 at para 1 Sveinson. 8. Stubicar v Canada (Prime Minister), 2013 FCA 1. 9. AMJ Campbell Inc v Kord Products Inc (2003), 63 OR (3d) 375 (SCJ). 10. Ibid at para 13. 11. This pair of phrases was observed on a T-shirt which concluded with “commas save lives”. “Let’s Eat Grandma” is also the name of a British musical group. 12. Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (New York: Avery, 2006). 13. “Object” is the grammatical term used to describe the word on which the action of the verb is carried out. 14. See the brief discussion of the Oxford comma in Rudichuk v Genesis Land Development Corp, 2017 ABQB 285 at para 82. 15. As was the case in Sveinson, supra note 7. 16. See the comment in Agbi v Geosimm Integrated Technologies Corporation, 1998 ABCA 374 at para 45, citing Ruth Sullivan, Driedger on the Construction of Statutes, 3rd ed (Toronto: Butterworths, 1994) at 277. t t t t t


Nov Advocate 2017
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