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Guide to research sources for Canadian and BC law.

How to find a case by topic

If you're looking for cases on a specific topic, you may be tempted to do a keyword search in an online database like CanLII or LawSource. Most of the time, this will lead to a list of hundreds of cases. You could spend hours trying to distinguish the important cases from the others. You can save a lot of time by looking in some secondary sources (called "Commentary") first.

Get your bearings with secondary sources

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:

  • explain the law in that area, and
  • point you to the most important cases and relevant legislation.

You will likely want to use more than one secondary source.

Click on each link for tips:

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

See more legal dictionaries.

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.



Excellent starting point:

Irwin Law publishes a great series of books written in plain English called the Essentials of Canadian Law . Check this series for a book on the broad legal topic you are researching, and then read the chapter on your specific topic. Some of the titles can be read online.


Learn more about finding legal books at KPU Library

The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest is an encyclopedia of Canadian law.

  • It's a great place to get a concise understanding of current Canadian law on a vast range of topics.
  • If you are looking for the answer to a specific legal question, this is the place to start.
  • You can search the CED by keywords or browse from broad to narrower areas of law.
  • You'll find short statements of law, arranged in numbered paragraphs, with live links to leading cases and relevant legislation.

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

  • If you are researching the Charter, this is the place to start.
  • It is arranged by Charter section. You'll find an explanation of the purpose of the section, and a discussion of leading cases which have tested that section.

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.

Learn more about finding legal journals at KPU Library

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.

1: Enter search terms in first box. 2: Click on Commentary tab in menu bar. 3: Click on All Contents drop-down menu. 4: Select CanLII Connects.

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

As you explore these secondary sources, you will want to:

  • note which area(s) of law are involved and which legal issues
  • look for legal terms that describe your topic; these can be used to help locate cases and other commentary
  • write down the titles of legislation (including specific section numbers) which are frequently mentioned
  • keep track of cases which are frequently mentioned: these are likely landmark cases which established precedents. In the next step, we'll look at how to use the information found in one important case to find other relevant cases. 

CanLII: Searching for Cases on Specific Topic

Case Digests

Case digests are brief summaries of legal decisions. Several databases have collections of these digests which can be searched by keyword or browsed by topic.

Canadian Abridgment Digests

Criminal Law Digests