Researching Canadian Law

By Ted Tjaden

Ted Tjaden is a lawyer and law librarian and works as the Coordinator of Information Services at the Bora Laskin Law Library, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. He is called to the Bar in British Columbia and Ontario and is the author of Legal Research and Writing, 2nd ed. (Irwin Law, 2004) and The Law of Independent Legal Advice (Carswell, 2000). He received his LL.M. from the University of Toronto for his thesis Access to Law-Related Information in Canada in the Digital Age in November, 2005. He recently authored an article for the American Association of Law Libraries Spectrum magazine entitled “Canadian Top 40: What You Need to Know About Canada’s Legal System” (PDF).

Update and revision to an article previously published on, January 19, 2004 <>

Published November 2005
Read the update!

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which means that we recognize Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, as the head of state. This is now largely a symbolic gesture with the Queen having no real juridical power. However, we still enact laws in the name of the Queen, who is represented in Canada federally by the Governor-General and provincially by Lieutenant-Governors.

The Canadian legal system was established under the British North America Act, 1867, with the creation of a federal government and various provincial governments and various court systems. That Act, since renamed to the Constitution Act, 1867, sets out, for example, the powers of the federal government (s. 91) and the powers of the provincial government (s. 92).

Under s. 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal government of Canada is given exclusive power to “make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces.” Some of the federal powers to legislate cover such topics as:

  • the regulation of trade and commerce
  • unemployment insurance
  • postal service
  • militia, military and naval service, and defence
  • navigation and shipping
  • banking
  • patents and copyright
  • marriage and divorce

Under s. 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the provincial governments have exclusive power over such areas as:

  • direct taxation within the province to raise revenue for provincial purposes
  • prisons (but not penitentiaries)
  • the incorporation of companies with provincial objects
  • the solemnization of marriage in the province
  • property and civil rights in the province and generally all matters of a merely local or private nature in the province.

Parliament and the provincial legislatures both have power over agriculture and immigration, and over certain aspects of natural resources; but if their laws conflict, the national law prevails. Parliament and the provincial legislatures also have power over old age, disability and survivors’ pensions; but if their laws conflict, the provincial power prevails.

Generally speaking, everything not mentioned as belonging to the provincial legislatures comes under the powers of the national Parliament (opposite to the same situation in the United States).

Canada’s constitution is not found in only one document but comprises a series of British and Canadian legislation. In 1982, the Trudeau government initiated steps to “repatriate” Canada’s constitution. At the same time, Canada introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a constitutional document that guarantees certain basic rights and freedoms, subject only “to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” (s. 1). The equality provisions in the Charter (s. 15) came into force in 1985.

The federal Parliament of Canada, modeled after the British Parliament, has two “chambers”: (i) the House of Commons, comprising 308 elected politicians, and (ii) the Senate, comprising 105 unelected Senators, appointed by the Prime Minister. Either chamber can initiate bills, but the Senate cannot initiate financial legislation. At the provincial level, there is only a single chamber for each of the provinces and territories.

The Government of Canada website is at

The Constitution Act, 1867 also establishes the various court systems in Canada. Simply put, there is a matrix of three different court systems (largely depending on whether the federal or provincial government appoints the judge): (1) Superior courts, where the judges are appointed by the federal government. These judges generally have unlimited jurisdiction. (2) Provincial courts, where the judges are appointed by the provincial government. These judges generally only have the powers given to them by provincial statute. (3) Federal courts, where the judges are appointed by the federal government. Federal Court of Canada judges have a jurisdiction limited to matters involving federal law, including intellectual property disputes, maritime law and claims against the government. Compared to the U.S. federal court system, the Canadian Federal Court system is very sleepy and many Canadian litigators never appear in the Federal Court of Canada due to its limited jurisdiction.

In addition to these three systems of courts, there are also generally 3 levels of court in Canada: (i) a trial court, sitting with a single judge who hears live witnesses, (ii) a provincial or federal appeals court, sitting usually with 3 judges who hear the appeal based on a written trial record, and (iii) our national Supreme Court of Canada, who generally sit as either 7 or 9 judges, depending on the matter being heard. The Supreme Court of Canada is our “top” court (although prior to 1949, it was possible to appeal a decision of this court to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England, but that avenue of appeal was removed in 1949).

The Charter had a dramatic effect on Canadian jurisprudence, an effect that cannot be ignored in any matter of Canadian public law. The Supreme Court of Canada, the highest appellate court, has issued a large number of Charter decisions in recent years on a wide range of issues that receive page one newspaper coverage. Because courts are given the power (if not the obligation) to strike down unconstitutional laws, some critics are alleging that Canadian judges are becoming too judicially active and doing the job that should be done by elected politicians. Despite these concerns, the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada are highly regarded throughout the world. In certain cases, Canadian courts look to decisions under U.S. constitutional law, but differences in the constitutions of both countries must always be kept in mind.

Judges in Canada are appointed by the government and generally must have been a member of the Bar for at least 10 years prior to his or her appointment. Federal judges are given tenure until age 75.

Canada has 10 provinces – British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador – and 3 territories – Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Canada has two official languages: English and French. As such, federal legislation is published in both English and French, as are decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. At the provincial level, legislation from Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick is also published in both official languages. At a practical, day-to-day level, most Canadians outside of Quebec use English.

The online version of Eugene A. Forsey’s How Canadians Govern Themselves (6th ed.) provides a more detailed explanation of the governmental process in Canada.

American lawyers, law librarians and legal researchers should be aware of some general differences between Canadian laws and American laws. Some of these differences include the following points:

  • Criminal law: In Canada, criminal law is a matter of federal law under the federal Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, whereas in the United States, criminal laws are largely a matter of state law, except for matters falling under U.S. federal jurisdiction. Thus, in Canada, most criminal laws are uniform across the countries (some offences, such as motor vehicle offences, may also fall under provincial jurisdiction). 
  • Residual federal powers: As mentioned above on this page, there is a constitutional principle in Canada of residual federal power that states that any matter of jurisdiction not assigned to the provinces under the Constitution Act, 1867 resides with the federal government, at least in matters of national concern. This is opposite to the American situation where residual powers are given to the States.
  • Legislation: Canadian federal and provincial legislation is generally not consolidated by subject matter but is instead published in its official version alphabetically by name of the statute or regulation, unlike the situation with the United States Code and many state codes. Some Canadian legal publishers publish unofficial consolidated or annotated editions of Canadian legislation.
  • Crown copyright: The notion of Crown copyright exists in Canada, unlike the situation in the United States. (Professor David Vaver has a nice online article entitled “Copyright and the State in Canada and the United States” that analyzes the differences between Canada and the United States regarding government ownership of government works). Although many Canadian governments are increasing the amount of publishing on the Internet, one wonders if the differences in copyright law in this area between the two countries explains the large amount of American government information on the Internet compared to the amount of Canadian government information on the Internet (once differences in population and culture have been taken into account).
  • Employment law: Employment at will is not a concept recognized by Canadian courts or federal or provincial legislation in Canada, unlike the situation in the United States. Thus, in most cases, Canadian employees are entitled to receive either “reasonable notice” of termination or the amount of “statutory notice” set out in the applicable employment legislation.
  • Constitutional rights: Canada has a recent (1982) Charter of Rights and Freedoms that has some similarities to the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, the Canadian Charter guarantees “right to life, liberty and security of the person” (s. 7) and the “right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” (s. 12). One major difference, however, is s. 1 of the Canadian Charter which “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. In Canada, therefore, the courts must explicitly balance the rights guaranteed in the Charter against the right of the government to reasonably limit those rights as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Recommended further reading on the Canadian legal system:

  • Fitzgerald, Patrick and Barry Wright. Looking at Law: Canada’s Legal System. 5th ed. Toronto: Butterworths, 2000.
  • Gall, Gerald L. The Canadian Legal System. 5th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2004.
  • Waddams, S.M. Introduction to the Study of Law. 6th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2004.


Legislation in Canada is officially published in print by the applicable federal or provincial Queen’s Printer. Increasingly, Canadian governments are putting their legislative materials online, although most governments also include stark disclaimers stating that the online versions are not official. Despite these warnings, many persons use the online versions of legislation, although care must be taken as to how current the online information is. The Ontario government, for example, promises legislation to be current within 24 hours on its e-Laws website. The Bora Laskin Law Library has a nice online chart of links to online federal and provincial and territorial legislation. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) also provides access to online Canadian legislation.

At the federal and provincial levels, the political party holding the most number of seats controls the legislative process through their majority control of the legislature. As such, the party in power will introduce legislation that supports their political policies. Quite often, legislation and policies will be discussed by Cabinet and then the details of the legislation will be worked upon by the deputy minister and his or her staff for the relevant ministry most closely associated with the subject matter of the legislation.

Once the draft legislation has been prepared, it will be introduced into the legislature as a bill and must pass through three stages or “readings” before it can become law (federal legislation must pass through three readings in both the House of Commons and the Senate; at the provincial level there is only a single legislature through which bills must pass only three readings). The procedure below describes the process for Ontario provincial legislation (similar procedures apply in other Canadian jurisdictions):

First reading: The bill is introduced by the Minister responsible, who also explains its objectives and makes a motion for its formal introduction. If the members vote in favour of the bill, it is assigned a number, printed and given to each member of the legislative assembly and scheduled for future debate.

Second reading: The bill is debated in the House. There is then a vote whether the bill will proceed to the committee stage (or directly to third reading stage, in some cases).

[committee stage]: If the bill was “sent to committee” this means it will be examined in detail by the committee for that subject matter or ministry (one of eleven standing committees in Ontario) or by a specially created committee (a select committee). The committee will usually be made of members from all political parties but controlled by the party with majority power. The bill is discussed section by section. This is the stage where changes are made, sometimes as a result of political compromise, sometimes because of a change in policy by the majority, and sometimes simply to improve clarity.

The committee process may last a few days or a few months, depending on the bill. The committee will then debate whether to send the bill to the Committee of the whole House (for more study by the entire legislature) or directly into final debate.

Third reading: This is the final debate on the bill. If the vote carries, the bill is sent to the Lieutenant-Governor for approval (called “Royal Assent”) (Federal bills are sent to the Governor General for Royal Assent). The bill is also given a chapter number at this time.

Federally, a bill must also pass through three readings in the House of Commons but it then must also pass three readings through the Senate. Alternatively, the Senate itself can introduce legislation. In this case, the bill must pass three readings in the Senate and then pass three readings by the House of Commons. The federal government has a Web page explaining how a federal bill becomes law.

Most bills are public bills — these are typically introduced by a member of Cabinet and relate to laws of general application throughout the jurisdiction. There are also private member bills — these can be introduced by any Member and are often introduced by members of the opposition party. If they are too controversial, they often do not pass third reading. In addition, there are also private bills — these can be introduced by any member and are not of general application but typically relate to a particular organization or individual.

When is a statute in force? Once a bill has received Royal Assent, it may not yet be in force. A statute may come into force in one of three ways:

1) The statute will state when it comes into force (usually at the end of the statute).

2) The statute will state it comes into force upon Royal Assent.

3) The statute will state it comes into force upon “proclamation”. The date of proclamation is usually given in the Gazette, a publication used by the government to publish regulations and other notices. Federal bills must be published in the Canada Gazette, Part III before they are official. The advantage to the government for having a law come into force upon “proclamation” is that they may not know at the time the bill passes third reading when they and the relevant ministry will be ready for the new legislation. Brochures may be required to be printed, staff may need training, and so on. A proclamation date therefore provides flexibility since the government can cause the Lieutenant Governor (or Governor General) to announce the proclamation date whenever its suits the needs of the government.

Philip Kaye, Research Officer, of the Ontario Legislative Library, has an online Backgrounder research paper entitled When Do Ontario Acts and Regulations Come into Force?, which explains how legislation in Ontario comes into force.

Provincial bills are assigned a (consecutive) number depending whether they are public bills (Bill 76) or private bills (Bill Pr 7). Federal bills are also assigned numbers in addition to a letter signifying where the bill originated: bill C-5 signifies the bill originated in the House of Commons (C); bill S-11 signifies the bill originated in the Senate (S).

Recommended further reading on Canadian legislation:

  • Jeffery, Michael I. et al. How to Understand Statutes and By-Laws. Toronto: Carswell, 1995.
  • Sinclair, Mary Jane T., ed. Updating Statutes and Regulations. 4th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1995.
  • Sullivan, Ruth. Statutory Interpretation. Toronto: Irwin Law, 1997. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw, Database: SULL).

Case Law

Case law in Canada has proliferated in recent years. For access to free, online Canadian case law, the best site is the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). CanLII even provides a basic noter-upper to see whether decisions on CanLII have been appealed or cited by another decision. However, the depth of coverage on CanLII is not that deep. As such, CanLII is not a complete solution to researching Canadian case law, but improvements and new content are constantly being made. Links are also provided directly to individual courts and legislatures.

The traditional method of finding relevant cases on a particular topic is to use a case law digest service, with the most well known being Carswell’s Canadian Abridgment, currently being re-issued in a new 3rd edition. The Canadian Abridgement, which is also available on Westlaw and on CD-ROM, provides digests or summaries of cases, organized into discrete topics (e.g., “Constitutional Law – Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Nature of Rights and Freedoms – Mobility Rights – General Principles”).

Carswell’s Canadian Case Citations is a print publication that shows a case’s judicial history (i.e., whether the case was appealed to a higher court or not) and its judicial consideration (whether later decisions cited or applied your case). There are excellent online “noter-uppers” on LexisNexis and Westlaw for Canadian court decisions.

In Canada, the Supreme Court Reports and the Federal Court Reports are technically the only official reporters. Most print-based case law reporters, such as the Dominion Law Reports (Canada Law Book) are “unofficial” but are still widely used by most lawyers and judges. There are many case law reporters in print, ranging from regional reporters (e.g., British Columbia Law Reports) to topical reporters (e.g., Canadian Cases on the Law of Insurance).

There are a number of commercial providers in Canada of online law-related information, for a fee. The major Canadian online providers include Canada Law Book, CCH Online, LexisNexis Canada, Maritime Law Book, the Société québécoise d’information juridiques (SOQUIJ) and WestlaweCARSWELL. Most of these databases have extensive full-text Canadian case law searchable by keyword on various fields or segments within the judgments. These commercial databases have much more depth and scope than what is freely available on Canadian Legal Information Institute in addition to often also having full-text legislation, journals, textbooks and newspapers.

The decisions of administrative tribunals are sometimes difficult to track down. The Canadian Legal Information Institute provides access to some decisions of administrative tribunals and it is also possible to check the website of the particular tribunal to see what, if any, access is provided to their decisions. LexisNexis Quicklaw probably has the most extensive online access to administrative tribunal decisions.

Depending on how one counts, there are 24 law schools in Canada. Canadian law schools operate in a similar manner to American law schools, except there are no “private” law schools in Canada. To enter Canadian law school, one usually needs strong undergraduate marks and a high Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score. Canadian law school is a 3-year program with mandatory first-year courses and a combination of electives in second and third year. Graduates of Canadian law schools earn an LL.B. degree (although the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, has recently changed the name of its degree to “J.D.” to mirror the name of the degree granted by American law schools).

Jurist Canada provides a nice list of Canadian law schools, as does the Canadian Council of Law School Deans.

Graduation from a Canadian law school does not guarantee the right to practice law in Canada. To practice law, the Canadian law school graduate must “article” (or “apprentice”) in the province in which he or she wishes to practice law. Although articling requirements can vary slightly from province to province, it generally involves working for one year under the supervision of a qualified lawyer, followed by passing the bar examination for that province (there is no “federal” bar examination in Canada). The Federation of Law Societies of Canada provides information on admission to the bar in Canada.

It is not mandatory for Canadian lawyers to join the Canadian Bar Association, but many lawyers do join for the benefits. There is an online version of the CBA Code of Professional Conduct.

Foreign-trained lawyers (i.e., lawyers who obtained their qualification outside of Canada) who wish to practice law in Canada need to be qualified by the National Committee on Accreditation

Many Canadian law firms have websites. Some of these sites are a valuable source of information where lawyers at the firm have published law-related articles on their websites. Unfortunately, Canadian law firm websites are not well indexed on the Internet, so it is difficult to find one comprehensive list. Set out below, therefore, are two ways of finding Canadian law firms: (i) using existing “meta” lists of law firms, or (ii) browsing through a select list of some of the larger Canadian law firms (the head office of the firm is indicated in parentheses after the firm name; some of the larger firms have offices or affiliations across Canada):

“Meta” lists of Canadian law firms:

Select list of larger Canadian law firms

Law Libraries

Law libraries in Canada are generally publicly accessible (except for some of the law society law libraries which may restrict access to members). They include large academic law libraries, courthouse libraries, legislative law libraries and law society libraries. The Canadian Association of Law Libraries/Association Canadienne des Bibliotheques de Droit (CALL/ACBD) represents the interests of a wide variety of law libraries across Canada.

The University of Calgary Law Library has prepared a nice list of Canadian law libraries. The University of Victoria Diana M. Priestly Law Library also has a nice list of Canadian law libraries.

Academic law libraries in Canada generally offer interlibrary loan services to other libraries (i.e., they will loan books to other libraries).

Secondary Literature

Secondary literature in Canadian legal research generally comprises journals, encyclopedias, books and web-sites. These materials are not binding on courts but can sometimes be persuasive, depending on the nature of the work cited and the reputation of the author or publisher.

Canadian Law Journals

Law journals in Canada range from academic and scholarly to more practitioner-based. Until recently, Canadian law journals were print-based but can increasingly be found online on commercial databases such as Westlaw, LexisNexis and HeinOnline. The Bora Laskin Law Library at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, has a nice list of law journals available online (the list includes journals from all jurisdictions).

There are a limited number of Canadian law journals freely available on the Internet; the Law Library at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto has a nice list of law journals available for free on the Internet.

There are two major journal indices in Canada: the Index to Canadian Legal Literature (Carswell), also on Westlaw and on LexisNexis Quicklaw, and the Index to Canadian Legal Periodical Literature (print only). In addition, LexisNexis Quicklaw has a unique database called the Canadian Legal Symposium Index (CLSI) that indexes papers presented at symposia, seminars and legal education workshops in Canada since January 1986.

The major Canadian legal encyclopedia is the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest or “CED” published by Carswell. In print, there are two versions: a green-coloured “Ontario” edition (emphasizing Ontario law) and a brown-coloured “Western” edition (emphasizing law from the Western provinces). The online version on Westlaw and the CD-ROM version include both editions. The CED is divided into numerous topics with numbered paragraphs within each topic. Each paragraph provides a general statement of law, usually supported by footnote references to leading cases or relevant legislation. Note: some topics in the CED are out-of-date despite the print version being supplemented by updated “yellow” pages.

Canadian Law Books

There is a relatively healthy market for Canadian law-related books covering all legal topics. Many practitioner-oriented law books are published as loose-leaf publications so that individual pages can be easily updated, as needed. Library and Archives Canada provides a free, online catalogue called AMICUS that is a union catalog for all books published in Canada and can be searched to verify the existence of a particular item (and its location). In addition, the Bora Laskin Law Library has a list of Canadian law schools providing links to Canadian law library catalogues. Alternatively, the individual legal publishers listed in the next section below provide online catalogues to their own publications.

Set out below is an extremely limited list of some of the leading textbooks on major areas of law. This list is very selective; for a complete listing of legal research resources by topic, including legal textbooks, see “Chapter 8: Legal Research by Topic” in Ted Tjaden, Legal Research and Writing, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2004).

Aboriginal Law

  • Woodward, Jack. Native Law. Toronto: Carswell, 1989- [looseleaf].

Administrative Law

  • Blake, Sara. Administrative Law in Canada. 3rd ed. Toronto: Butterworths, 2001.
  • Mullan, David. Administrative Law. 4th ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2001. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: MULL).

Banking Law

  • Baxter, Ian. F.G. Law of Banking. 4th ed. Scarborough, Ont: Carswell, 1992.

Bankruptcy Law

  • Bennett, Frank. Bennett on Bankruptcy. 8th ed. North York, Ont: CCH Canadian, 2004.
  • Houlden, Lloyd W. and C.H. Morawetz. Bankruptcy and Insolvency Law of Canada. 3rd ed. Scarborough, Ont: Carswell, 1992- [looseleaf].

Competition Law

  • Affleck, Don and Wayne McCracken. Canadian Competition Law. Toronto: Carswell, 1990- [looseleaf].

Constitutional Law

  • Hogg, Peter W. Constitutional Law of Canada. 4th ed. Scarborough, Ont: Carswell, 1997- [looseleaf].
  • Monahan, Patrick. Constitutional Law. 2nd ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2002. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: MONA).
  • Sharpe, Robert J. et al. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 2nd ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2002. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: SHAR).

Contract Law

  • Fridman, G.H.L. The Law of Contract. 4th ed. Scarborough, Ont: Carswell, 1999.
  • Waddams, S.M. The Law of Contracts. 4th ed. Aurora, Ontario: Canada Law Book, 1999.

Corporate Law

  • Buckley, Francis H et al. Corporations: Principles and Policies. 3rd ed. Toronto: E. Montgomery, 1995.
  • Hansell, Carol. Directors and Officers in Canada: Law and Practice. Toronto: Carswell, 1999- [looseleaf].
  • McGuiness, Kevin P. and William Johnston. The Law and Practice of Canadian Business Corporations. Toronto: Butterworths, 1999.
  • Peterson, Dennis H. Shareholder Remedies in Canada. Toronto, Ont: Butterworths, 1989- [looseleaf].
  • VanDuzer, J. Anthony. The Law of Partnerships and Corporations. 2nd ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2003. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: VAND).

Criminal Law

  • Gibson, John L. and Henry Waldcock. Criminal Law: Evidence, Practice and Procedure. Toronto: Carswell, 1988- [looseleaf].
  • Roach, Kent. Criminal Law. 2nd ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2001. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: ROA2).
  • Stuart, Don. Canadian Criminal Law: A Treatise. 4th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2001.

Crown Law

  • Hogg, Peter W. and Patrick J. Monahan. Liability of the Crown. 3rd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2000.
  • Lordon, Paul. Crown Law. Toronto, Butterworths, 1991.

Defamation Law

  • Brown, Raymond. The Law of Defamation in Canada. 2nd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1994- [looseleaf].

Education Law

  • Brown, Anthony F. and Marvin A. Zuker. Education Law. 3rd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2002.

Employment Law

  • Ball, Stacey Reginald. Canadian Employment Law. Toronto: Canada Law Book, 1996- [looseleaf].
  • England, Geoffrey et al. Employment Law in Canada. 3rd ed. Markham, Ont: Butterworths, 1998- [looseleaf].
  • Harris, David. Wrongful Dismissal. 3rd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1984- [looseleaf].

Environmental Law

  • Benidickson, Jamie. Environmental Law. 2nd ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2002. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: BENI).
  • Wilson, Paul C., ed. Canadian Environmental Law Guide. Vancouver STP Specialty Technical Publishers, 1996- [looseleaf].

Evidence Law

  • Paciocco, David M and Lee Stuesser. The Law of Evidence. 3rd ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2002. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: PASE).
  • Sopinka, John et al. The Law of Evidence in Canada. 2nd ed. Toronto: Butterworths, 1998.

Family Law

  • CCH Canadian Limited. Canadian Family Law Guide. Toronto: CCH Canadian, 1976- [looseleaf].
  • Fodden, Simon. Family Law. Toronto: Irwin Law, 1999. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: FODD).
  • Hainsworth, Terry W. Divorce Act Manual. Aurora, Ont: Canada Law Book, 1994- [looseleaf].

Health Law

  • Dykeman, Mary Jane. Canadian Health Law Practice Manual. Toronto: Butterworths, 2000 [looseleaf].

Immigration Law

  • Waldman, Lorne. Immigration Law and Practice. Toronto, Butterworths, 1992- [looseleaf].

Insurance Law

  • Brown, Craig. Insurance Law in Canada. 2nd ed. Scarborough, Ont: Carswell, 1999.

Intellectual Property Law

  • Deturbide, Michael and Teresa Scassa. Electronic Commerce and Internet Law. Toronto: CCH Canadian, 2004.
  • Henderson, Gordon F. et al. Patent Law of Canada. Scarborough, Ont: Carswell, 1994.
  • Henderson, Gordon F. et al. Trade-marks Law of Canada. Scarborough, Ont: Carswell, 1993.
  • McKeown, John S. Fox on Canadian Law of Copyright and Industrial Designs. 4th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2003- [looseleaf].
  • Vaver, David. Intellectual Property Law: Copyright, Patents, Trademarks. Toronto: Irwin Law, 1997. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: VAIP).

International Law

  • Currie, John H. Public International Law. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2001. Available on LexisNexis Quicklaw (database identifier: CURR).
  • Kindred, Hugh M. International Law, Chiefly as Interpreted and Applied in Canada. 6th ed. Toronto: Emond Montgomery, 2000.

Labour Law

  • Adams. George W. Canadian Labour Law. 2nd ed. Toronto: Canada Law Book, 1993- [looseleaf].

Municipal Law

  • Rogers, Ian M. The Law of Canadian Municipal Corporations. 2nd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1988- [looseleaf].

Securities Law

  • Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Securities Law and Practice. 3rd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1988- [looseleaf].

Tax Law

  • CCH Canadian Limited. Canadian Master Tax Guide. Don Mills, Ont: CCH Canadian, 1946- [annual updates].

Tort Law

  • Klar, Lewis. Tort Law. 3rd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2003.
  • Linden, Allen M. Canadian Tort Law. 7th ed. Toronto: Butterworths, 2001.


  • MacKenzie, James. Feeney’s Canadian Law of Wills. 4th ed. Toronto: Butterworths, 2000- [looseleaf].

The largest legal publishers in Canada include Carswell, Butterworths Canada, Canada Law Book and CCH Canadian. Other important publishers of law-related material include Emond Montgomery Publications, Irwin Law, Lancaster House, Maritime Law Book, Self-Counsel Press, Wilson & LaFleur and Yvon Blais.

There are a number of commercial providers in Canada of online law-related information. The major Canadian online providers include Canada Law Book, CCH Online, LexisNexis Canada, Maritime Law Book, the Société québécoise d’information juridiques (SOQUIJ) and WestlaweCARSWELL.

Law Dictionaries

There are a number of Canadian legal dictionaries, all available only in print:

  • Dukelow, Daphne A. and Betsy Nuse. The Dictionary of Canadian Law. 2nd ed. Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 1994.
  • Reid, Hubert. Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien : avec table des abréviations et lexique anglais-français. Montreal: Wilson & LaFleur, 2004.
  • Yogis, John A. Canadian Law Dictionary. 5th ed. New York: Barron’s, 2003.

In addition, there are two major “words and phrases” services in Canada (these materials provide multiple examples of definitions drawn from court cases where the court has defined or explained the word or phrase in question):

  • Carswell, The Canadian Abridgment: Words and Phrases. 2nd ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1984-
  • Gardner, John D. Words and Phrases, Legal Maxims. 4th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1990-

Law Directories

There are a number of legal directories (telephone books for lawyers and legal institutions). The major ones include:

  • Canada Legal Directory. Toronto: Carswell. Published Annually.
  • Canadian Law List. Aurora: Canada Law Book. Published Annually. Modified form available online.
  • Lexpert
  • Martindale-Hubbell International Law Directory. Published Annually. Modified form available online.
  • Ontario Legal Directory [the “orange book”]. Toronto: Distributed by University of Toronto Press. Published Annually.
  • The Ontario Legal Desk Book. Toronto: Carswell. Published Annually.


Legal citation in Canada is generally governed by the red-coloured Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (5th ed., Carswell, 2002). This guide is usually referred to as the “McGill Guide” because it is edited by the publishers of the McGill Law Journal. The McGill Guide provides comprehensive rules for citing case law, legislation, secondary material, parliamentary material for Canada, the U.K., the U.S. and other jurisdictions and also international documents. In addition, the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) is expecting to publish a citation manual for international and foreign sources that will likely include a chapter on Canadian legal citation.

McGill Guide rules are very technical and quite detailed. Case names in a style of cause, for example, are always italicized (e.g., Smith v. Jones), as is the title of legislation (e.g., Family Law Act).

There is no online version of the McGill Guide, but the William R. Lederman Law Library at Queen’s University has a nice chapter on Canadian legal citation that includes examples.

Québec is unique in Canada not only for its language and culture but also for its legal system. Unlike the other Canadian provinces, which draw upon the British common law tradition, the roots of Québec’s private law stem from the civil law and the Napoleonic Code from France. But the common law influence has penetrated into the Québec legal system, making it a unique hybrid, influenced both by the civil law and the common law. The website of the Québec Department of Justice has a nice overview of the history of the legal system in Québec and an explanation of the court system in Québec.

The current Civil Code of Québec came into force on January 1, 1994 and contains 3,168 articles divided into ten sections or “books.”  For lawyers and librarians trained in the common law system, it may help to think of the Civil Code of Québec as a systematic codification of the “headnotes” or principles arising from the case law. As such, in a common law system, there are a whole series of court rulings from which one could synthesize general principles (such as the “duty of care” principle arising from Donoghue v. Stevenson that a person will be held liable for the damages caused by his or her negligence when it is reasonably foreseeable that a breach of duty of care by that person would cause injury to the other person). If one were to systematically codify these principles arising from the case law, one might start to approach a code of law resembling a civil code, although such a simplistic view overlooks the fact that a civil code is not actually developed in such a manner.

There are six law schools in Canada that provide a civil law course for persons to become lawyers in Québec:

Of the foregoing schools, McGill’s program is in English and both McGill and Ottawa also provide a joint common law/civil law degree upon completion of an extra fourth year of law at either of these schools. Admission to the practice of law in Québec, like the other provinces in Canada, requires writing and passing provincial bar exams and then articling for a requisite period of time. Québec notaries, however, have a different status and play a more elevated role than notaries in other provinces. Hence, graduates from civil law schools in Canada have an option of attending the professional schools of either the Barreau du Québec or the Chamber des notaires du Québec.

In Chapter 12 of MacEllven et al., Legal Research Handbook (5th ed., Butterworths), Denis Le May describes some of the similarities between Québec and the common law provinces, despite the civil code tradition in Québec:

  • Like the other provinces, Québec is bound by Canadian federal laws, such as the Criminal Code or the Copyright Act. As a result, the crime of breaking and entering is the same whether it is committed in Alberta or Québec. Hence, case law regarding matters of federal jurisdiction that apply in Québec is relevant no matter where it originates.
  • Judges in Québec are appointed in the same manner as judges in the other provinces in Canada. Thus, judges in Québec resemble their counterparts in other provinces more so than their counterparts in other civil law systems, such as France.
  • Québec, like other provinces, also has provincial statutes and regulations of general application in the province. The Revised Statutes of Québec was last revised in 1977 (R.S.Q. 1977). They are kept current by the annual Statutes of Québec (S.Q.). The Revised Regulations of Québec 1981 are kept current by the Gazette officielle du Québec: Part 2, Laws and Regulations. The government of Québec provides Internet access to Québec legislation. Québec legislation and case law are also available on the web-site of La Société québécoise d’information juridique (SOQUIJ).

It is conceptually a little bit confusing for lawyers or librarians trained in a common law system to understand the interplay between the Civil Code of Québec and the Revised Statutes of Québec since both are statutes. Perhaps the simplest way to understand their relationship is to regard the Civil Code of Québec as stating the general principles by which the specific remedial measures set out in the Revised Statutes of Québec are governed. As such the Revised Statutes of Québec will usually legislate at a much more specific level of detail than the Civil Code of Québec.

The following resources discuss Québec’s legal system in more detail:

  • Brierley, John E.C. and Roderick A. Macdonald. Québec Civil Law: An Introduction to Québec Private Law. Toronto: Emond Montgomery Publications, 1993.
  • Canadian Bar Association – Ontario, et al. The New Civil Code: A Practical Guide to What Every Ontario Lawyer Needs to Know about Québec Law. Ottawa: CBAO, 1994.
  • Gall, Gerald L. The Canadian Legal System. 5th ed. Chapter 8 (by Pearl Eliadis and revised by France Allard). Toronto: Carswell, 2004.
  • MacEllven, Douglass T. et al, with special assistance by Denis Le May. Legal Research Handbook. 5th ed. Chapter 12. Toronto: Butterworths, 2003.

In the early 1970s, before the KE Class for the Law of Canada was created, several large Canadian academic law libraries made a decision to adapt the KF Class for the Law of America (created in 1968) for Canadian and commonwealth materials. Shih-Sheng Hu, the law librarian at Manitoba, devised a way of modifying the KF class for American materials to the Canadian context that would also allow all materials on a subject from different jurisdictions to be shelved together. Other members of the KF Modified School were Roger Jacobs (Windsor), and Balfour Halévy and Judith Ginsberg (York) and Diana Priestly (then of York).

For some KF classes, there is little modification: Family Law is KF 501-505 for both Canadian and U.S. family law materials. Other KF classes were modified by adding “geographical divisions” (G.D.) such that materials from the U.S. have no G.D. (and hence would be shelved first in that subject) and with all other countries being “cuttered” with “Z”; thus, KF6499 would be the range for an American book on income tax, while a Canadian book on the same subject would fall within the range KF6499 ZA2 and an Australian text would be KF6499 ZD2.

The KF Class was also modified through the use of tables for several areas of Canadian law where the American classification was not well-suited, such as constitutional law (KF 4480-4496), legal history of Commonwealth countries (KF345-349), and the Québec Civil Code. Tables assign specific numbers for this material. Cataloguers use a textbook (in a blue three-ring binder) called KF Classification, Modified for Use in Canadian Law Libraries to catalog legal materials for those Canadian law libraries using KF Modified as its classification scheme. This text contains a list or chart of legal subjects organized by classification number. For certain classes, the user is told to finish building the number using the tables of the back of book depending on the type of resource being catalogued and the size of the number range given for that topic.

By 1975, use of KF Modified had increased among Canadian law libraries and was in use by many of the common law Canadian academic law libraries. In April 1987, the National Library of Canada added KF Modified numbers to its CIP (Cataloging in Publication) data.

Despite this use of a special KF Modified by Canadian law libraries, the Library of Congress started to develop the KE Class (for the Law of Canada) through the help of Ann Rae, former Chief Librarian of the Bora Laskin Law Library, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, who was seconded to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s to develop the current KE Class for the Law of Canada.

Thus, the current situation in Canada for law library classification is that we have a mixed system: some law libraries use KF Modified, while others (particularly the “civil law” academic law libraries in Quebec) use “pure” KE for the Law of Canada. Some law libraries, including the University of Victoria and the University of Toronto, that initially adopted the KF Modified form of classification are now moving towards “pure KE,” primarily on the grounds that it is easier to buy cataloging records that use pure Library of Congress classification instead of the relatively unique KF Modified form of classification.

The following articles discuss the history and use of KF Modified cataloging in Canada for legal materials:

  • Abols, Edite. “The Los Angeles County Law Library K Classification and the Department of Justice’s Library Collection, Ottawa” in “Classification Schemes Used in Law Libraries in Canada. CALL Newsl. No. 5, 399-400 Nov. 1988, 13.
  • Beresford, Anne. “Why Moys?” in “Classification Schemes Used in Law Libraries in Canada. CALL Newsl. No. 5, 393-394 Nov. 1988, 13.
  • Ginsberg, Judith. “KF Classification Modified for Use in Canadian Law Libraries” in “Classification Schemes Used in Law Libraries in Canada. CALL Newsl. No. 5, 392-393 Nov. 1988, 13.
  • Ginsberg, Judith. “A Note on the KF Classification Modified for Use in Canadian Law Libraries.” In Law Libraries In Canada, ed. Joan N. Fraser, 159-161. Toronto: Carswell, 1988.
  • Inselberg, Diana. “Home-Grown Classification Schemes: The Russell & DuMoulin Experience” in “Classification Schemes Used in Law Libraries in Canada. CALL Newsl. No. 5, 396 Nov. 1988, 13.
  • MacKellar, Marilyn. “Use of Dewey Decimal Classification for Tax Law Collections.” in “Classification Schemes Used in Law Libraries in Canada. CALL Newsl. No. 5, 395 Nov. 1988, 13.
  • Rae, E. Ann. “The Development of the KE Classification Schedule for Canadian Law: The Politics of Expediency.” In Law Libraries In Canada, ed. Joan N. Fraser, 147-158. Toronto: Carswell, 1988.
  • Rapkin, Lenore. “Classification of Books in McGill University Law Library” in “Classification Schemes Used in Law Libraries in Canada. CALL Newsl. No. 5, 396-397 Nov. 1988, 13.
  • Rashid, H. “One Decade Later: KF Canadian Adaptation Scheme.” Canadian Library Journal 41 (1984): 75-77.

Law Reform in Canada

Although law reform commissions in Canada were much more active in the 1970’s, some reform work continues to be done, despite government cutbacks and the lack of funding for this sort of important work:

Discussion Lists and Blogs

One of the main online discussion lists is the one unofficially associated with the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, being CALL-L. It is an un-moderated listserv used primarily by Canadian law librarians but also includes subscribers generally interested in legal research and the Canadian legal system. To subscribe to CALL-L, send an e-mail message in the following format to

subscribe call-l First_Name Last_Name

For example: subscribe call-l Wayne Gretzky

There is a searchable archive of the CALL-L listserv.

Law-related blogs in Canada have started to proliferate. Some of these blogs include:

Set out below in alphabetical order are a number of the more frequently used websites for conducting legal research in Canada, some of which have already been mentioned above: