As It Happens

In Labrador, if you've got the time, you may be committing a crime

Because of a decades-old law still on the books, Labradorians may be unwittingly breaking the law by setting their clocks to Atlantic Time.
Thousands if people in Labrador may inadvertently be breaking the law by setting their clocks to Atlantic Standard Time. (Guillaume Souvant/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Story transcript

For more than 80 years, it seems, thousands of Labradorians have been breaking the law. And most of them probably didn't even know it.

Their crime? Setting their clocks to Atlantic Time, instead of Newfoundland's quirky half-hour time zone.

James McLeod is a reporter for The Telegram. He broke the story about Labrador's illegal clock-setting habits earlier this week. He spoke with As it Happens Carol Off from St. John's, N.L. Here is part of their conversation. 
James McLeod is a reporter for the Telegram in St. John's, N.L. (Submitted by James McLeod)

James, what is illegal about setting your clock to Atlantic time in Labrador?

For the last 82 years, there's been a law on the books that formally says what the standard time in Newfoundland and Labrador is.

And at no point in that history has the government gotten around to acknowledging that most of Labrador doesn't observe the same time as Newfoundland.

OK, so there's a Newfoundland Standard Time, and there's Atlantic Standard Time. Tell us where it begins and ends in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Nearly all of Labrador, by convention, always observed Atlantic Standard Time, half-an-hour behind Newfoundland. The government just never caught up with that in terms of law.- James McLeod, Telegram

Officially, the law says that the whole province of Newfoundland and Labrador is covered by Newfoundland Standard Time, which is three-and-a-half hours later than GMT.

There is a little provision in the law that says the cabinet can pass regulations and they can fiddle with the lines and make exceptions for part of the province if they want. It just seems like they never actually got around to doing that.

Nearly all of Labrador by convention [has] always observed Atlantic Standard Time. The government, I guess, just never caught up with that in terms of law.

So for the last 82 years, all the Labradorians who have been setting their clocks to Atlantic Standard Time have sort of been breaking the law. 

Time zones across Canada. (National Research Council Canada)
So when you broke this story about all these scofflaws that are living in Labrador, what was their reaction when they learned that they've been setting their clocks wrong? Do they care?

It's something between a shrug and a grumble.

Labrador is a part of the province that's least densely populated, and it's almost in some ways equivalent to living in the Northwest Territories or the Yukon — in that food is more expensive, the roads in a lot of cases aren't as good, there's resource projects that people up there are often unhappy with where the profits are going.

So this was just another example of "the government of St. John's has forgotten about us, and doesn't care about us, and we're used to it because of what happens with everything else."

But who wouldn't want to be part of that funny little half-hour time zone? I mean, there are very few of them anywhere in the world, aren't there?

We are the only one in the Americas, although India and a few other countries in the Eastern Hemisphere are also on these half-hour time zones.

But it barely makes sense for Newfoundland, to be honest.

The whole reason why Newfoundland's on a half-hour time zone is because the train system was headquartered in St. John's, and St. John's is all the way on the far-eastern edge of the island. 

It's one of those wonderful little distinctions. It just separates Newfoundland from everybody else that they've got this this half-hour time zone. Do people like it? Do they have a problem with it? 

Technically, this falls under the Department of Municipal Affairs for...I have no idea what reason.- James McLeod, Telegram

Oh yeah, it's definitely a point of pride. 

And, actually, back in the 1950s and the 1960s, there were two different attempts to move Newfoundland onto Atlantic Standard Time. And both times the population just freaked out, and the government was flooded with objections. And in the face of the backlash, they backed down.

This sculpture by Jose Luis Torres in Harbourside Park in downtown St. John's honours Newfoundland's time zone quirk. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)
Now that you have broken this story, how is the government responding? What is the ministry in charge of clocks in Newfoundland and Labrador?

That is the strangest part to me. Technically, this falls under the Department of Municipal Affairs for ... I have no idea what reason. But when I got a hold of the minister, the reaction was sort of, "Yeah, we'll look at maybe fixing that at some point. But it hasn't been a problem for the last however many decades, so it's not that urgent."

It's unlikely to ever come before a judge. It hasn't in the last 82 years at least.

I guess, as they say, time and only time will tell. 

Yes, but at the moment it is, I suppose, a timely story.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with James McLeod.


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