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Canadian Legal Research

Canadian System

Canadian System

Structure of the court system

As in the United States, Canada has two parallel systems. In addition to the National Federal Court system, each province and territory has its own court system. (Canada also has a military court system and a special tax court.) The Federal system consists of three levels: (1) the Federal Court (trial level); (2) the Federal Court of Appeals and (3) the Supreme Court of Canada. In the provincial system, each province has three levels of courts. Each province has a provincial (or territorial) court, followed by a superior court and then by a provincial court of appeal. The Canadian Supreme Court constitutes a fourth layer, because it is also the court of last resort for provincial cases. While the provincial and territorial superior courts can hear all matters except those which are specifically excluded by statute, the Federal Court may only hear matters that are precisely mentioned by federal statute.

For more detailed information regarding the Canadian court system, its organization and jurisdictional details, including a diagram of the court's hierarchy, click here.  


Statutory Law

Statutory law in Canada has some similarities and some differences from statutory law within the United States. Similar to federal statutes within the United States, a federal statute in Canada applies to every province and territory within Canada. A provincial statute only has mandatory authority within its own jurisdiction. Thus, a British Columbia statute has no mandatory authority within another province or territory within Canada. In the United States, if a power is not mentioned as belonging to the federal government, that power would come under the power of the states. However, in Canada, the opposite holds true. If a power is not mentioned as belonging to a provincial government, then that power lies with the national Parliament.