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Canadian Legal Research

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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.

Case Law

Case Law

Online Links

To find cases online use:

  1. Quicklaw (Harvard affiliates - IP access- click Product Sign-In in corner and then click Quicklaw)
  2. CanLII (Free to the world)
  3. Westlaw 

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.  

Locating decisions of the federal and provincial courts in Canada

Decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada are published in print within the Supreme Court Reports (KE 140 .A23) and the Dominion Law Reports (KE 132 .A23). Online access is also available to the decisions of the Supreme Court here and here and to the federal courts.

For provincial and territorial case law decisions, there is a provincial or territorial reporter for each province.  Additionally, some regional reporters report cases from multiple provinces, such as the Western Weekly Reports (KE 156 .W47). The law school library also has access to its predecessor, Western Law Reporter ( Harvard Depository CAN 503 WES) for researchers looking for earlier decisions.

 

Decisions of administrative tribunals may be found in print and online. In print, they are published within the Administrative Law Reports (KE 5015.A45 A35). 

Locating Canadian case law when you don't have a citation.

If you don't have a citation, the The Canada Digest in Quicklaw allows you to identify cases by looking up keywords used in the decision. Additionally, numerous online sources, such as the Canadian Legal Information Institute, provide key word searching in either English or French, and pertaining to particular jurisdictions or within many jurisdictions at once.

 

Case Law - updated

Structure of Canadian Court System

Canadian Court System, courtesy of Department of Justice Canada

Photo courtesy of Department of Justice Canada

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.

Case Law

 

Locating decisions of the federal and provincial courts in Canada

Decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada are published in print within the Supreme Court Reports (KE 140 .A23) and the Dominion Law Reports (KE 132 .A23). Online access is also available to the decisions of the Supreme Court and to the federal courts.

Additionally, some regional reporters report cases from multiple provinces, such as the Western Weekly Reports (KE 156 .W47). The law school library also has access to its predecessor, Western Law Reporter ( Harvard Depository CAN 503 WES) for researchers looking for earlier decisions.

 

Decisions of administrative tribunals may be found in print and online. In print, they are published within the Administrative Law Reports (KE 5015.A45 A35). 

 

 

Where to find Canadian Case Law

Harvard Law Library currently relies on online sources for current materials on case law. We also have an extensive archive collection of reporters in print, which can be used for research purposes.

Canadian Supreme Court Cases

Federal and Provincial Court Cases

If You Don't Have a Citation but Still Need to Find a Case

Making Sure Your Case is Still Good Law and Finding Citing Cases/References

In Canada, they call this process "noting up." Online services such as KeyCite and Shepards on Westlaw and Lexis may be used. Quicklaw also has its own version of these services called QuickCite. For those researchers who are used to only Keyciting or Shepardizing US law, it should be noted that not as much detail is given as to how cited cases are referenced in later cases, or by secondary sources.

Statutes and Constitution

Statutes and Constitution

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.

For more information on the legislative process within Canada's national Parliament, click here. For information regarding how a bill becomes a law within Canada's parliament, visit LEGISInfo, and then click on "How does a bill become a law?" Additionally, the Privy Council Office has a detailed guide on its web site entitled A Guide to the Making of Federal Acts and Regulations.

Access to free legislative information on the Internet varies by province and territory, but a good resource to use for access to the statutory collections of most of the Canadian jurisdictions is the Canadian Legislative Information Institute, which contains 13 collections. 

You will always want to make sure that your statutory legal research is up to date. To verify that a Canadian federal statute in still good consult online resources such as CanLII. In addition, these online research guides provide detailed, step-by-step instruction on how to perform statutory research; prepared by Queens University (instruction on federal and Ontario statutory research).

Currently, there are ten provinces and three territories within Canada. Establishing a new province would require Constitutional amendment. Once a province is established, per section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, a province has exclusive legislative authority. In contrast, territories only have that legislative authority given to them by Parliament, which may be limited.

Canada's Constitution can be found in Volume 4 of the Constitutions of the Countries of the World (ILS RR K3157 .A2 B58 1971). This volume contains a consolidation of the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982 as of April 1, 1999. As such, it takes into account the Constitution Act of 1999, Nuvanut. When Nuvanut became a new territory, the Constitution Act, 1867, Part 2, was amended to allow for an increase in Senators from 104 to 105, with the maximum number of senators being raised from 112 to 113, accordingly, and to allow for each of the three territories to have one representative each. Additionally, the Canada Department of Justice web site provides the text of the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982.

Regulations

Regulations

Similar to the consolidation of Canada's federal and provincial statutes, the federal regulations of Canada were last consolidated in 1978, in the Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1978. Any amendments to these regulations or any new regulations since promulgated can be found online within the Canada Gazette Part II. Regulations are published within the Gazette within 23 days of registration (unless the enabling statute provides that a particular regulation is exempt from publication), per the Statutory Instruments Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. S-22. Regulations can be found online in Westlaw and in Quicklaw.  .

Before relying on a regulation, it is important to know its effective date. For those regulations that are published, the regulation is deemed to be effective as of the date it is registered with the Clerk of the Privy Council. For regulations exempt from publication, the regulation is effective as of its promulgation date. For more information regarding regulations and detailed instructions on how to find regulations, Queens University's research guide entitled Legal Research Materials: Finding and Updating Regulations, should be consulted.

Provincial regulations of Canada are available Westlaw and Quicklaw that are currently, or formerly subscribed to by the Harvard Law Library. For more information, review the Privy Council Office guide  regarding the making of regulations

Treaties

Treatises and Directories

Treatises and Directories

 

Directories

  1. Canadian Law List (KE 211 .C36).  This directory contains listings on thousands of barristers and solicitors within Canada. Information is also included regarding judges from all across Canada. Government contact information for each of the provinces is included as well as corporate law departments for numerous corporations.
  2. Martindale Hubbell  Information provided includes law firm alliances, networks, associations, clubs and other affiliations, as well as the Martindale-Hubbell ratings, and an index to the many colleges, universities, and law schools.
  3. West Legal Directory - Canada: This is available on Westlaw in the WLD-CANADA database and provides information regarding individual attorneys and law firms in Canada. Information within the directory is by response to the West Legal Directory Data form or has been gathered from other sources.

General Treatises

Many treatises are available through our paid databases. Search the TP-Canada database on Westlaw.

Constitutional Law

Criminal Law

Handbooks and Nutshells

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Dictionaries

Encyclopedias and Digests

Associations

Associations

Associations

Canadian Bar Association: Provinces and territories with branches of the Canadian Bar Association are listed below. The Canadian Bar Association is a professional one, and membership is voluntary. For more information regarding its mission and goals, click here.

In addition, many of the provinces and territories have their own law societies, listed below. Law societies are self-governing bodies, created to regulate the profession in each of their jurisdictions.

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