Doing Legal Research in Canada – Canadian Primary Legal Resources

Guide: Table of Contents / Introduction / Canadian Primary Resources / Canadian Secondary Resources
Canadian Legal Organizations / Canadian Legal Publishers / Research by Topic

This section of Doing Legal Research in Canada provides information and sources on this page for the following three key Canadian primary legal resources:

  1. Canadian legislation
  2. Canadian case law
  3. Canadian administrative tribunal decisions

1. Canadian Legislation

Canadian legislation is a key source of primary law. It represents the rules and edicts of elected politicians in the form of statutes and regulations and other regulatory instruments, such as orders-in-council. In the Introduction to this Guide to Doing Legal Research in Canada, there is a section covering the legislative process in Canada regarding how laws are made. Instead, set out below is a simplified chart providing sources of federal and provincial government home pages, legislative assemblies, Hansard debates, statutes, bills and regulations (where available). Unfortunately, not every Canadian jurisdiction has legislation on the Internet, and the quality and currency of information varies widely from province to province. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) also provides links to Canadian federal and provincial legislation and allows you to search for legislation (and case law) across all Canadian jurisdictions. The asterisk (“*”) below indicates that information on the site is by fee subscription only.

Jurisdiction Gov’t
Leg Assembly Debates Statutes Bills Regulations
Federal home Parliament House of Commons
statutes bills regs
British Columbia home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Alberta home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Saskatchewan home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Manitoba home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Ontario home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Quebec home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
New Brunswick home leg. assembly n/a statutes bills regs
Nova Scotia home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
P.E.I. home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Newfoundland and Labrador home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
NorthWest Terr. home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Yukon Territory home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs
Nunavut home leg. assembly debates statutes bills regs

In addition to legislation on the Internet, both QUICKLAW and WestlaweCARSWELL have online, fee-for-service legislative databases for all Canadian jurisdictions. Some commercial Canadian legal publishers publish books or CD-ROMs containing legislation. The advantage of electronic versions of legislation, whether on the Internet, CD-ROM or online database, is that the text of the legislation can be updated fairly quickly whenever amendments are made and placed directly in the text of the original Act or regulation, thereby avoiding or minimizing the need to manually update print versions through various annual session volumes.

Canadian legislation is also available in print in its official version from the applicable government Queen’s Printer. Information about obtaining print versions of legislation can usually be found on the links in the chart above. In addition, many Canadian legal publishers offer commercial versions of legislation, often in annotated or consolidated formats.

Both the federal and Ontario governments consolidate their legislation alphabetically by title by republishing them periodically in consolidated versions that incorporate changes since the last consolidation. Federally, the Revised Statutes of Canada 1985 were last consolidated in 1985 and will be due for reconsolidation sometime soon (although expect to see fewer consolidations of statute sets in Canada due to the advent of online legislation which can be updated “on the fly”, thereby lessening or eliminating the need for periodic consolidations of print versions). The Ontario statutes, for example, have in recent decades been revised every ten years, with the last revision being the Revised Statutes of Ontario 1990. The consolidated versions of statutes re-enact the statutes since the last consolidation and bring together all revisions in one place to any one particular Act, in addition to correcting spelling mistakes and re-numbering sections.

Ordinarily, when citing legislation in court, reference must be made and photocopies provided of the official Queenís Printer version (as opposed to a commercial version of the Act), although the strict application of this rule is softening in some jurisdictions. For example, Part IV of the Ontario Legislation Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, c. 21, Sched. F provides that, unless the contrary is proved, a copy of the online version of legislation from the government’s website will be treated as an official copy in judicial proceedings.

2. Canadian Case Law

Another key source of primary Canadian law is case law, the decisions of Canadian judges. In the Introduction to this Guide to Doing Legal Research in Canada, there is a section covering the judicial process in Canada that should be consulted. This section of the guide describes online and print sources of Canadian case law.

There are several online sources of Canadian case law. Unfortunately, there is much less Canadian case law freely available on the Internet than there is in the United States. The starting place for free access to Canadian case law on the Internet is the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). CanLII provides links to Canadian courts at all levels in addition to allowing a search across one or more Canadian jurisdictions.

Several Canadian legal publishers also provide fee-for-service subscriptions to their online databases of Canadian court cases. Links below are to the descriptions of these publishers available in a different section of this guide:

Canada also has an extensive history of print publishing of Canadian court cases. In Canada, some of the more well known, national coverage case reporters in print include:

  • Supreme Court Reports (S.C.R.)
  • Federal Court Reports (F.C.)
  • Dominion Law Reports (D.L.R.)
  • Western Weekly Reports (W.W.R.)

Other reports can be found by region (the Ontario Reports or O.R., for example) or by topic (the Canadian Cases on Employment Law or C.C.E.L.). There are a large number of print case reporters available in Canada.

The most extensive case law finding tool in Canada is Carswell’s Canadian Abridgment (3rd ed.), available in print, CD-ROM and through WestlaweCARSWELLeCARSWELL. The American equivalent of the Canadian Abridgment is West’s Decennial Digests and General Digests, while the British equivalent would be The Digest.

The Canadian Abridgment in print is in fact more than just a service providing digests of case law; there are various components: Canadian Case Citations, Canadian Statute Citations and the Index to Canadian Legal Literature, and Words & Phrases; it is possible to buy individual components or even individual volumes only on specific legal topics. Case law coverage dates back to the 1800s and access to cases is primarily by topic using the Key and Research Guide or by keyword using the General Index. Once the topic is found using either resource, the user is led to the main volume for that topic and paragraph number range; to update the research, the user then consults the paper supplements, which typically includes a cumulative supplement and individual monthly supplements. Indexes are found in the back of every volume, including supplements.

Generally, there are several methods for noting up Canadian case law:

  • citators: the print publication in Canada for noting up case law is Carswellís Canadian Case Citations. However, most Canadian legal researchers use either or both of the online noter-uppers on LexisNexis Canada or WestlaweCARSWELL. CanLII also has a free (but limited) noter-upper for the cases contained within its database
  • tables of cases judicially considered: most print publishers have a section in their case law reporter indices called “Table of Cases Judicially Considered” which is an alphabetical list of cases published in their reporters that have judicial histories or treatment.

In Canada, the leading style guide is the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (the “McGill Guide”) (6th ed., 2006). The Canadian Citation Committee has recently promulgated standards for “neutral citation” that creates a simple standard by which courts automatically create a standardized, neutral citation for each case:

Example: R. v. Giles, 1999 BCCA 0003

3. Canadian administrative tribunal decisions

The decisions of Canadian administrative tribunals are also considered a primary source of law and should not be overlooked in highly regulated areas such as telecommunications law or in areas where administrative boards are the primary arbitrators of disputes, as in labour law and some human rights law (however, tribunal decisions tend to have less precedential value). This guide has a separate page providing information and resources on Canadian administrative law. This section of the guide simply sets out below links to the websites to those Canadian administrative bodies that provide Internet access to their decisions. LexisNexis Canada, a fee-for-service/subscription online database, has extensive databases of administrative decisions.

Administrative tribunals with decisions on the Internet include:

CanLII also has an extensive listing of administrative tribunals and boards whose decisions can be searched and accessed via CanLII.

Print sources of administrative law decisions include Reid’s Administrative Law, Carswell’s Administrative Law Reports, and Canada Law Book’s Labour Arbitration Cases.

© 2000-2008 Ted Tjaden. Users may browse, download, print and link to this “Doing Legal Research in Canada Guide” for any non-commercial use or for educational use.

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