Skip to Main Content


Guide to research sources for Canadian and BC law.

How to find a case by citation

For help reading citations, see the box below on Understanding Case Citations.

Searching legal databases by case citation

Understanding case citations

The citation for a case provides the information that you need to quickly locate a copy of the decision. The fastest way to find the full text of a decision is to look it up by its citation.

Citations are very brief and full of abbreviations. Their purpose is to precisely identify the location of a specific legal decision in the shortest form possible. Unlike case names, every citation is unique. 

The exact form of a citation depends on the source of the case. The standard Canadian legal citation ‘style guide’ -- commonly called the "McGill Guide" – shows how to format different case citations, whether they are published online or in an annual or series print law reporter.

Here is an example of a neutral citation:

To search for a case by its citation, you do NOT include the case name. You only include the information after the comma.


Example of a neutral citation:

Note: Almost all Canadian courts assign a neutral citation to their cases now. However, this only started in the past 20 years, and some courts adopted the standard earlier than others. You will not find neutral citations for cases that are over 20 years old.

Example of a citation for case published in an ‘Annual’ law report:

Volume numbers in annual reports start over every year. It is essential to include the year in the citation to locate a case in an annual law report.

(Note: This is the date the decision was published in the law reporter, not necessarily the year that it was released by the court.​)

 Citation for a case published in a ‘Series’ law report:

Volumes are numbered consecutively over many years, into ‘series’. You do not need to include the year of a decision to locate a case in a series.​

Parallel citations:

You will often see multiple citations for the same decision strung together in one long reference. These are called parallel citations. The following example includes three citations, separated by commas:

If you want to locate the full text of this decision, you can search in LawSource or CanLII for any one of the three citations given above. 

The current Canadian legal citation standard (called the "McGill Guide") does not use periods after most abbreviations in case names. 

However, you will come across many case names which include periods. Here is an example:

  • [2007] 3 S.C.R. 405

These are likely from older publications, or from courts which have not adopted the McGill style of citation. If you cite these older decisions in a paper, however, you would use the new McGill format and leave out the periods, as shown here:

  • [2007] 3 SCR 405