This guide lists key sources of information for Canadian legal research with tips on how to use them.
For more general information about criminology and the criminal justice system in Canada, please see our Criminology research guide instead.
You're likely reading this because you are brand new to doing legal research. You're in the right place!
The steps in this box are designed to help you get from knowing nothing about a legal topic, to having a basic understanding of relevant concepts and issues, and finding links to leading court decisions and legislation.
Follow the numbered tabs at the top of this "First Steps" box for tips on how to tackle your topic.
Other pages in this library guide (listed in the left menu) will go into more detail on using specific types of legal sources to take your research even further.
*Exception: Quebec uses the civil law system for provincial matters of private law, based on the French tradition of written legal codes.
Canada was created in 1867 as a colony of Great Britain. The British monarch -- currently King Charles III -- is still Canada's head of state even though Canada now governs its own affairs. While largely a ceremonial tradition, this relationship is evident in Canada's legal system in several ways:
Image source:Justice Education Society of BC
TIP: It is almost always best to start your research with a secondary source!
Click on each link to learn more
These guides provide tips on selecting effective keywords for your legal searches:
The quickest way to get a basic understanding of a legal topic is to review some commentary sources. These are things like legal encyclopedias, books and journal articles . A good secondary source will:
As you explore these secondary sources, you will want to:
Click on the links below to learn about how these types of commentary sources can help you. You will likely want to use several of them.
Canada's common law system is rooted in the interpretation of written law. Language matters. Some everyday-sounding words may have very precise meanings in the law. Some terms will be in Latin. If you're not sure what a term means, look it up in one of these dictionaries:
Image by Caleb Roenigk from Flickr
Use the KPU Library's Summon search tool to look for different types of sources in the library's collection, all at once.
TIP: Use the "Content Type" filter for Book/Ebook in Summon to limit your results just to books.
The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest is an encyclopedia of Canadian law.
The CED can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but here are some videos to help:
Charterpedia is an encyclopedia about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Articles published in legal journals tend to be very long, and are written for people who already know a lot about the law. You may find them overwhelming. However, they can be more up-to-date than books, and you can often find articles analyzing one specific legal case (called a case comment) which could be helpful if you're writing a case brief.
CanLII has a growing collection of commentary which includes books and legal journals as well as other secondary sources. I recommend searching the whole CanLII commentary collection and then filtering your results by type of source if you find too many. Click on the drop-down menu beside the "All Contents" filter to view the types of sources available in your result list.
Of particular note is the CanLII Connects collection which features case comments by leading lawyers and experts. This is especially helpful for recent cases.
Here is a quick introduction to the Commentary collection in CanLII which is a great place to start!
Video credit: David H. Michels from the Canadian Association of Law Libraries for CanLII on YouTube
After using the secondary sources in Step 3, you will likely already have found references to important cases and relevant legislation related to your topic. Now you will want to find those primary sources.
Some online secondary sources such as the CED and CanLII Commentary will have links directly to the primary sources that they cite which is very handy. But you may only have the name and/or citation of a case or piece of legislation and will need to locate the full text.
The two main online sources you will use for this are:
For search tips, see these pages on the Law guide:
The law does not stand still. It changes for many reasons, including:
To find out whether a decision is considered to be "good law" -- reflecting current practice -- you need to check whether subsequent decisions have followed its precedent or not. This is called 'noting up’ a case. You can also note up legislation to see how courts have interpreted specific pieces of legislation.
The main online sources you will use for noting up cases and legislation are:
The standard Canadian legal citation style guide is commonly called the "McGill Guide".