Educating Yourself: Legal Research

Law

You can do your own legal research to learn about your rights and responsibilities under the law. See the sections below to learn about:

  • What “jurisdiction” is and how it may affect your family law matters
  • Using libraries to do legal research
  • The difference between legislation and case law, and how it may affect your family law matters
  • What primary sources and secondary sources are, and how to find them
  • How to make sure your information is current (“noting up” legislation and case law)
  • How to do legal research online (including using CanLII, Westlaw, and Quicklaw)

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here

Last Reviewed: July 2016
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page is about educating yourself to deal with a family legal problem

There are many ways to deal with a family legal problem. You may be able to come to an agreement on your own (with your former partner or any other person who is involved with your family). Or you may need the help of someone else who can work with your family to solve your legal issues without having to “go to court.” For more information on either of these options, see the Coming to an Agreement on Your Own and Alternative Dispute Resolution Information Pages.

If you end up going to court to resolve your family legal problems, you can choose to hire a lawyer or represent yourself. For more information on these options, see the Working with a Lawyer and Representing Yourself in Court Information Pages.

No matter how you decide to work through your issues, you will need to educate yourself about your legal rights and responsibilities. Especially if you are representing yourself, you are expected to know what laws apply to your situation, and make sure that any solution that you come up with is legally sound.

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which covers the basics of legal research. For detailed information on how to start researching a legal problem, click on the Process tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs.

Family Violence

If you have been the victim of family violence, before starting any online research you should review the Safe Browsing page to learn about how to protect yourself online. Also, see the Family Violence and the Legal Process Information Page for information about how family violence may affect your case, and important legal issues to be aware of.

What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

jurisdiction

A particular government’s right, power, or authority to make laws. The Government of Canada has “federal jurisdiction.” The laws made by the Government of Canada apply to everyone in Canada. On the other hand, the provinces and territories of Canada have “provincial jurisdiction.” The laws made by those governments apply only within that province or territory. The exact topics that each jurisdiction can make laws about is set out in Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867.

statutes (also called “acts” or “laws”)

Written rules passed by the government that affect the rights and responsibilities of people and organizations. In general, the laws that apply in Alberta are passed by either:

  • the Legislative Assembly of Alberta (these laws apply only in Alberta);
  • the Parliament of Canada (these apply across Canada); or
  • “bylaws” passed by Alberta “municipalities” (cities, towns, villages, or counties), and which only apply in those municipalities.
Be Aware

Many people and resources talk about “the law” in general. This usually refers to the whole legal setting. It includes the “laws” (statutes) themselves, regulations, bylaws, and case law.

regulations

The practical details about laws that allow the laws to be enforced. Regulations may include details such as what information to include in forms or how much it will cost to file a document. Regulations are easier to change than laws, as they do not have to be passed by the whole Legislative Assembly of Alberta or the Parliament of Canada. Despite this difference, they are just as much “law” as those passed by the Legislative Assembly or Parliament.

Not all laws have regulations, but all regulations are attached a particular law. The law will state who has the authority to make regulations about that particular law.

For more information about regulations, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

legislation

A term that includes both statutes and regulations.

bylaws

Laws specific to a “municipality”—a city, town, village, or county.

case law (also called “judge-made law”)

The law that is created based on the decisions in previous court cases. This means that cases decided in the past may determine how cases are decided now.

Sometimes, case law may be the only “law” that exists about a certain topic. This occurs when no statutes, regulations, or written laws have been passed by a government on that topic. Then the decisions made in similar cases may be all that judges have to consider when hearing a case about that particular issue. This is also called “common law.”

On the other hand, there may be a law about a particular topic, but the judges hearing individual cases can decide:

  • the exact meaning of the words in the laws (this is called “interpretation”), and
  • how that meaning applies to the people in individual cases (this is called “application”).

precedent

A decision from one legal case that may either be “binding” or “persuasive” on other courts.

  • If a decision is binding on other courts, the other courts have to follow the same method of deciding similar cases.
  • If a decision is persuasive for other courts, other courts will strongly consider applying the result of that case when they later decide cases with similar issues or facts.

This “law of precedence” is meant to increase fairness in the justice system. If the facts of the cases within a jurisdiction are the same, then the outcome should usually be the same.

In general, cases are binding on all lower courts within the same jurisdiction. For example, the highest court in Alberta is the Alberta Court of Appeal. So any decisions made in the Alberta Court of Appeal must be followed in the future by all the courts in Alberta (including the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Alberta). Similarly, decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada would be binding on all courts in Canada. This is because the Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the country and applies to all Canadian courts. See the following resource for a chart of how Canadian courts are organized.

Web Structure of the Courts
Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association
English

Cases from another jurisdiction (for example, a case in British Columbia) are not binding on courts outside of that jurisdiction. But some judges may still consider the facts of the case anyway if they are similar. For example, a court decision made by a court in British Columbia could be a “persuasive” case. This means that it may be considered by Alberta judges if the facts of the cases are similar. But an Alberta judge may choose to use a different method of deciding the case. In general, the higher the court that made the decision, the more persuasive the decision will be.

primary source

A law or legal document itself. This is different from something that discusses or reviews a law. Examples of primary sources are: statutes, regulations, court decisions, contracts, and Wills.

secondary source

Any material that discusses the law itself or how the law has been applied. In other words, secondary sources “interpret” primary sources or give an opinion about the meaning of the law. Examples of secondary sources are: legal encyclopedias and finding aids, journal articles and textbooks about the law, and public legal information materials.

Most people start their legal research with secondary sources. For more information, see the “Step 1: Get familiar with your topic through secondary sources” section below.

More definitions

When you do legal research, you may often come across words that are unfamiliar. Also, some words mean different things in legal situations than in everyday use. Be sure you understand the information you find by using legal glossaries. There are many free options online, including the LegalAve Glossary and the following resources.

Web Glossary of Legal Terms
Emond Publishing
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Multilingual Legal Glossary
Vancouver Community College
Chinese, English, Farsi, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Interactive Welcome to Irwin Law’s Canadian Online Legal Dictionary
Irwin Law Inc.
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web The Law Dictionary
TheLawDictionary.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
 

Legal dictionaries are also very helpful for seeing how words are defined by judges. See the “Finding secondary sources” section on the Process tab of this Information Page for more details about finding and using legal dictionaries.

Before you start: Understanding the legal system

Before you start your legal research, make sure you understand the legal system of Canada and Alberta. You will need to know all about laws, regulations, and case law so you know what you should research for your particular legal issues. For a brief introduction to Canadian law, see the following resources.

PDF The Canadian Legal System: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web How the Law Works in Canada
Clicklaw
English

For more information, see the Our Legal System: Alberta & Canada Information Page.

Before you start: Understanding “jurisdiction”

What is jurisdiction?

“Jurisdiction” refers to the right or ability of a government or a court to make decisions about things.

In terms of government, “jurisdiction” refers to a particular government’s right, power, or authority to make laws.

  • The Government of Canada has “federal jurisdiction”—the laws made by the Government of Canada generally apply to everyone in Canada.
  • The provinces and territories of Canada have “provincial jurisdiction”—the laws made by those governments generally apply only within that province or territory.

The exact topics that each jurisdiction can make laws about is set out in Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867. Governments cannot make laws about topics that are not in their jurisdiction.

Similarly, governments of other countries make laws that generally only apply in their geographic area.

In terms of the court system, “jurisdiction” is also used to describe a particular court’s authority to deal with an issue. This is related to the governmental jurisdiction:

  • Federal courts (such as the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court) deal with the laws passed by the Government of Canada.
  • Alberta courts (the Provincial Court of Alberta and the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench) have the authority to deal with Alberta laws. But they cannot deal with the laws of another province. In other words, “jurisdiction” is the geographical area where the judge has authority to make court orders.
  • Alberta courts can also deal with laws passed by the Government of Canada, if they have been given the authority to do so. For example: Alberta courts have the authority to deal with the Criminal Code of Canada (which is a federal law).

In general, courts cannot make orders using laws that are not in their jurisdiction, and courts cannot hear a matter about a person who is not in their jurisdiction.

Why does it matter?

A basic concept of law is that, in general, courts can only use the laws that apply in the geographical area where those courts are located. A court in Alberta is meant to apply the laws of Alberta. It cannot simply decide one day to apply the laws of Newfoundland or of the Netherlands to the case it is considering. It has no jurisdiction to do so.

Also, people are governed by the laws in the geographical area where they live. A person who lives in Camrose, Alberta will be governed by Canadian federal laws, Alberta provincial laws, and the city laws passed by the City of Camrose. A person living there cannot simply decide to be governed by the city laws of Moncton, the territorial laws of the Yukon, and the federal laws of the France instead.

More information

For more general information about what jurisdiction is and why it matters, see the Our Legal System Information Page and the following resources.

PDF The Canadian Legal System: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English


Web Canada's Court System
Department of Justice Canada
English

Web Powers of the National and Provincial Governments
Parliament of Canada
English

Web Distribution of Powers
The Canadian Encyclopedia
English

French resources:


Web L'appareil judiciaire du Canada
Department of Justice Canada
French


Web Partage des pouvoirs
The Canadian Encyclopedia
French

If you are researching a family law topic that crosses borders, you may also want to see the following Information Pages.

Legal research basics

As a first step, you will need to think about the goal of your research. The following resources discuss some ways to approach legal problems.

PDF Seven Steps to Solving a Legal Problem
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web How to Avoid Your Day in Court
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Building Your Case
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

What is legal research?

Legal research is all about finding legal information that applies to your case.

This will include:

  • primary sources: the law and legal documents themselves; and
  • secondary sources: materials that discuss the primary sources and help you find primary sources that apply to you.

You will also need to make sure that the information:

  • is the most current version, and
  • comes from a reliable source.

Once you find the legislation and case law that applies to your situation, you can use this information:

  • out of court (such as if you are coming to an agreement on your own and need to make sure your agreement follows the law); or
  • in court (or in your court documents) to show the judge why you are asking for a particular thing.

Online vs. print sources

Online sources

The internet has made legal research much faster and easier than it was in the past. If you know where to look, you can find laws, cases, articles, textbooks, and many other useful legal resources on the internet.

However, while there is a lot of legal information online, not all of it is good information. You should be very careful when doing legal research online to make sure that the information you are finding:

  • is up-to-date,
  • applies in your jurisdiction, and
  • comes from a reliable source.

Law librarians can help point you in the right direction. See the “Using libraries in your research” section below for more information. Also, the Process tab of this Information Page has detailed information on common legal databases available at libraries.

For more information about making sure you find accurate and applicable legal information, see the How to identify quality legal information online page of this site and the following resources.

PDF Is it Reliable? 7 Clues to Good Legal Information Online
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Video Is It Reliable? - 7 Clues to Good Legal Information Online
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta (via YouTube)
English

Web A checklist about reliable online legal information
Community Legal Education Ontario
English

PDF Helping Clients with Legal Issues: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 11-12.

Web Evaluating Print vs. Internet Sources
Purdue University
English

Print sources

Not all legal information is available online. For in-depth research about a topic, you may need to visit a law library and see their print materials. Or, you may be able to get print materials sent to your local public library from another library. This is called an “interlibrary loan.” For more information about ways to access print materials, see the “Using libraries in your research” section below.

The legal research process

Each situation is different, so people may research their legal issues in different ways. The following resources give an overview of things to consider when starting your legal research. For more detailed information, keep reading this Information Page.

Web Step-by-Step Legal Research Process
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Legal Research Process
University of Toronto
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Suggested Steps in Legal Research
Nova Scotia Department of Justice
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.


Web Legal Research Subject Guide
University of Alberta
English

Web Steps in Legal Research
Queen’s University
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Thurgood Marshall Law Library Guide to Legal Research, 2016 - 2017
University of Maryland
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Learning Modules
University of Ottawa
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Modules d'apprentissage
University of Ottawa
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
 
Web Canadian Legal Research Guides
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English


Web Legal Research Manual
Queen's University
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. Choose “Legal Research Checklist.” When you click on the link, the checklist will automatically download to your computer as a Word document.

The following resources are not available online. The links below will give you an overview of the resources, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

Book The comprehensive guide to legal research, writing & analysis
Emond Publishing
English
Access the full book from The Alberta Library.

Book The ultimate guide to Canadian legal research
LexisNexis Canada
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.

Book Legal research and writing
Ted Tjaden
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.

Book The practical guide to Canadian legal research
Thomson Reuters Canada
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.
Using libraries in your research

Legal research can be complicated and takes time. Because so much information is available online (including current legislation and case law), many people may start their research from home. But legal research can be overwhelming, and you may not be sure that you are looking in the right places.

There are people who can help you with your legal research at law libraries across the province. They can show you good places to start your research, and teach you how to use legal resources. However, keep in mind that librarians can only help you:

  • find legal information,
  • use legal resources, and
  • direct you to other agencies that can help you with your legal issue.

Librarians cannot interpret the legal information for you, or give you any sort of legal advice.

Legal advice tells you what you should do (in your lawyer’s opinion). On the other hand, legal information tells what you could do. Many resources can provide you with legal information (including this website). In Alberta, only lawyers can give you legal advice. To learn more about the difference between legal information and legal advice, see the following resources.

PDF Legal Information vs. Legal Advice: What is the Difference?
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Legal information is not the same as legal advice
Community Legal Education Ontario
English

PDF Helping Clients with Legal Issues: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 15-16.

If you need legal advice, you should contact a lawyer. See the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid and Working with a Lawyer Information Pages for more information.

There are many libraries that can help you with your legal research in Alberta, including:

  • Alberta Law Libraries,
  • university law libraries,
  • public libraries, and
  • The Alberta Library (TAL).

See the Process tab of this Information Page for more information about how to use these libraries online and in person.

Step 1: Get familiar with your topic through secondary sources

As mentioned in the “What the words mean” section above, secondary sources are materials that discuss primary sources such as legislation and case law.

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • legal encyclopedias and finding aids;
  • annotations (these are summaries or commentaries on a section of a statute);
  • articles and books about the law; and
  • public legal information materials (such as brochures, booklets, and websites).

Secondary sources can be helpful to see how legal experts make sense of the law. They often describe the law in different ways that can make it easier to understand.

Most people start their legal research with secondary sources. This is because:

  • they are easier to understand than primary sources;
  • they give background information on the topic; and
  • they help to identify the primary sources that apply to the topic.

Without secondary sources to point you in the right direction, it could be hard to find exactly which laws and cases may apply to your situation. You can also use the terms, phrases, and keywords that you find in secondary sources to help you search for primary sources.

Remember

There is a lot of legal information online, but not all of it is good information. You should be very careful when doing legal research online to make sure that the information you are finding is up-to-date, applies in your jurisdiction, and comes from a reliable source. See the Process tab for more information about evaluating online legal information. Law librarians can also help with this.

See the following resources for an overview of secondary sources.

Web Step 1: Secondary Sources - Introduction
University of Toronto
English

Web Je cherche...
Université de Moncton
French

Using legal encyclopedias as “finding aids”

Legal encyclopedias can be very useful when you just start your research and aren’t sure where to begin. To use a legal encyclopedia, you look up your topic (for example, “spousal support”), and you will get:

  • a short description of the issue;
  • a list of the legislation that applies to the topic; and
  • any important cases that have dealt with the topic.

See the Process tab of this Information Page for more information about how to use legal encyclopedias in your research.

Other secondary sources

Other secondary sources include books, journal articles, legal dictionaries, and legal websites. Many of these can be found at law libraries, and some are freely available on the internet.

Be Aware

Because these secondary sources can come from many different places, you need to be careful about relying on them too much. Keep in mind that these materials are only someone’s opinion. No judge has to pay attention to the arguments that the author has made.​

See the Process tab of this Information Page for more information about finding and using other secondary sources in your research.

Step 2: Finding relevant primary sources

As mentioned in the “What the words mean” section above, primary sources are the actual laws or legal documents themselves. Case law is also a primary source. 

If there is already a statute about your situation, you will need to follow it. For example: if you are dealing with child support issues and you were not married to your former partner, the statute that will apply to you is the Family Law Act. You will need to follow that law whether you are coming to an agreement out of court or going to court to have a judge decide the matter for you. 

Other primary sources that might affect your case are legal documents such as contracts.

For example:

You and your spouse had a pre-nuptial agreement (which is a contract), and now you are divorcing. You will need to follow:

  • the terms of that contract (unless you can prove that it was not legal contract in the first place); and
  • case law specific to your situation.

See the sections below for more information about the different kinds of primary sources.

Laws and regulations

You will find current laws and regulations in different places, depending on which government made the laws (federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal). Print copies are available from law libraries, and online versions are available from different government websites. See the Process tab of this Information Page for more information about how to find laws and regulations.

See the following resources for an overview about Canadian legislation and the difference between laws and regulations.


Web Legislation
University of Alberta
English
Click on the links on the left of the screen for more information.

Web Federal Legislation – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.
 
Web La législation fédérale – Introduction
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur "Page suivante" en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.
Tip

On LegalAve, most Information Pages have a section called “The laws that may apply to you,” where we link directly to the laws that relate to that topic.

Case law

Another important part of legal research is learning about “case law.” This is law that comes from the judgments made in previous court cases. Many cases may be similar to yours. By looking at how the judge treated those cases, you can get an idea of how a judge may treat your case if you go to court. See the “What the words mean” section above for more information about this.

An important thing to know about case law is how the “law of precedence” works. A “precedent” is a decision from one legal case that may either be “binding” or “persuasive” on other courts.

  • If a decision is binding on other courts, the other courts have to follow the same method of deciding similar cases.
  • If a decision is persuasive for other courts, other courts will strongly consider applying the result of that case when they later decide cases with similar issues or facts.

This “law of precedence” is meant to increase fairness in the justice system. If the facts of the cases within a jurisdiction are the same, then the outcome should usually be the same. See the “What the words mean” section above for more information about this.

When there is no legislation

For some issues, there is much legislation. For example: family law. However, for other issues there is no legislation. No laws have been passed by a provincial or territorial legislature or the Parliament of Canada on that topic. Instead, the legal rules that apply have been developed through past court judgments. Sometimes, these kinds of issues are also referred to as the “common law.”

For these issues, learning about the case law is crucial. The decisions made in similar cases may be all that judges have to work with when hearing a case about that particular issue.

When there is legislation

Even if there is legislation dealing with your topic, case law is still important. Many times, laws are not straightforward or clear (even to lawyers and judges). So judges hearing individual cases can decide:

  • The exact meaning of the words in the laws. For example: if the law says that something must happen in a “reasonable” amount of time, what exactly does that mean? This is called “interpretation.”
  • How that meaning applies to the people in individual cases. For example: what would be a “reasonable” amount of time in this particular case? This is called “application.”

These ways of understanding the law that come from different cases may affect your own legal issue. For more information about legislation and case law, and how they relate to each other, see the following resources.

PDF Relationship Between Statutory Law and Case Law
University of Maryland
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web The Sources of our Law
Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association
English

Web Les sources de notre droit
Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association
French

 

 

Where to find case law

 

 

There are several places to find court judgments in print and online.

Law libraries will have print versions for you to look at. See the “Using libraries in your research” section above.

The most popular free online source is CanLII. However, be aware that CanLII’s best coverage is for more recent cases (within the past 15 years). So if you need older cases or more complete information, you may need to use different sources. Two other popular databases are available at law libraries across Alberta: Westlaw and Quicklaw. See the Process tab of this Information Page for more information about using CanLII, Westlaw, and Quicklaw for online research.

Step 3: “Noting up” legislation and cases

It is very important that you have the most recent information about the primary sources you are using in your research. This process is called “noting up.”

For legislation, this means you must:

  • have the current version of the law; and
  • look at how judges have interpreted the law since it was created. This is called “judicial consideration.”

For case law, you need to know:

  • what has happened with the case since its first judgment (for example, if it was overturned); and
  • whether other judges have mentioned that case in any of their own similar cases, and what they said about it.

Noting up legislation

There are 2 things to think about when noting up legislation:

  1. if the legislation is the most current version, and
  2. if the legislation has been mentioned in a court case (also called “judicial consideration”).

The following resources give a good overview of this process.

Web Noting Up a Statute
University of Alberta
English

Audio/Web 
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
 

Current legislation

Federal laws on the Department of Justice Canada website are generally the most current versions of the law.

However, the online versions of Alberta provincial laws are not the “official” source of the law, and therefore are not always current. It can sometimes take several days for the current version to be added to the Alberta Queen’s Printer website. For more information about finding the most current legislation in Alberta, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

Judicial consideration

Case law also impacts the meaning of legislation. Remember that judges hearing individual cases can decide:

  • the exact meaning of the words in the laws (this is called “interpretation”), and
  • how that meaning applies to the people in individual cases (this is called “application”).

As a result, court decisions often explain or clarify the legislation. This means that you need to know how the legislation has been considered in any court cases. The same “interpretation” may apply to your case. 

For more information about noting up legislation (which includes both laws and regulations), see the Process tab of this Information Page.

Noting up cases

There are 2 things to think about when noting up a case:

  1. the history of the case, and
  2. the consideration of the case.

History of the case

Looking at the history of the case means seeing how the case has held up over time. Because some cases happened many years ago, things may have changed. For example, some cases may have been “appealed.” This means that one of the parties challenged the judgment in a higher court. The appeal court may have overturned or reversed the original decision.

For more information about appeals, see the Understanding the Court Process Information Page.

Consideration of the case

When looking at the consideration of the case, you are seeing how other judges have treated the case since the first judgment. When considering a new case, a judge may mention the decision made in an earlier case in either a positive or negative way. In other words, the judge may agree or disagree with the first judgment.

Some cases have a lot of positive consideration. Most judges agree with them. Other cases have a mixed history. Different judges may agree or disagree with each other about these cases for a variety of reasons. In other words, these cases are more controversial, and they are not always followed.

You will want to see if the cases you are looking at are controversial among other judges, and why. If a case is being brought up as a bad example by other judges, it may not be the best case to use as an example for your own situation.

Tip

Looking at the consideration of a case can also help you find other, similar cases that might be a better match for your own legal issue.

There are many print and online resources that can help you note up cases to make sure you have the most current information. See the Process tab of this Information Page for more detailed information about how to do that.

Debates about the “intention” of the law

The making of a law begins when a bill is introduced in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta or the Parliament of Canada. Then the elected members of our government debate whether or not it should become a law and why.

After the bill becomes a law, legal researchers sometimes have to look back at what happened during those debates. They want to know what was said in the debates about what the law should mean or how it should be used. This can help to determine what the “intention” of the law is. The “intention” can be important when making arguments about how a law, or a portion of law, should be “interpreted” by a court (as described above).

See the “Step 2” section of the Process tab of this Information Page for detailed information about how to find the full text of these debates.

Process

Learn more about how to do your own legal research, including:

  • Using libraries in your legal research
  • How to evaluate legal information to make sure the information is “good” information
  • How to find primary and secondary sources in print and online
  • How to “note up” legislation and case law
  • How to use online legal resources, including CanLII, Quicklaw, and Westlaw

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here

Last Reviewed: July 2016
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page is about educating yourself to deal with a family legal problem.

You are currently on the Process tab of this Information Page, which provides specific information about resources you can use in your legal research. For the basics about legal research, click on the Law tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs.

Tip

If you are just starting out with this topic, it’s a good idea to begin on the Law tab of this Information Page. There you will find information about how to identify good sources, what the words mean, and other issues that will help you understand better what to ask for and how to get it. Once you have the basics down, you will be in a better position to learn about the process you need to follow to resolve your legal issues.

Family Violence

If you have been the victim of family violence, before starting any online research you should review the Safe Browsing page to learn about how to protect yourself online. Also, see the Family Violence and the Legal Process Information Page for information about how family violence may affect your case, and important legal issues to be aware of.

Finding and using libraries across Alberta

A great place to start your legal research is a library. Public libraries, law libraries, and university libraries all have resources to help you with your search. They can also work together to get you materials from other libraries. 

Remember

Library staff can help you find information, but they cannot interpret that information for you, or give you any sort of legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact a lawyer. See the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page and the Working with a Lawyer Information Page for more information.

Alberta Law Libraries (ALL)

Alberta Law Libraries (ALL) is a network of 11 law libraries in courthouses and provincial buildings across Alberta. The libraries are open to all Albertans. Only judges and lawyers can borrow books from Alberta Law Libraries, but everyone can use their materials and online databases inside the library.

ALL librarians and staff can help you get comfortable with the library and the resources they offer. You can even get free personal training time with a law librarian, or ask a law librarian a question via email. See the following resources for more information.

Web Training and Tours
Alberta Law Libraries
English
 
Web Ask a Law Librarian
Alberta Law Libraries
English

The ALL website also has online guides for specific legal topics. These “LibGuides” will point you to books, case law, legislation, and other resources about your topic. See the LibGuide list in the following resource. After you select your law topic (for example, “Family”), you can click on the tabs at the top of the page to find links to relevant information. Be aware that many of the resources can only be accessed from inside an ALL location.

Web Welcome to ALL LibGuides!
Alberta Law Libraries
English

For a list of online databases available at ALL, see the following resource. For more information about how to use these databases, see the “Using online legal resources” section below.

Web E-Resources in Alberta Law Libraries
Alberta Law Libraries
English

To find your closest Alberta Law Libraries location, see the following resource.

Web Our Libraries
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Public libraries

Your local public library can also be a good place to start your legal research. Many public libraries have subscriptions to legal databases that you can use for free inside the library. The staff at public libraries can help you get started on where to look for information, and recommend community resources to you.

Also, if you have a library card with your local library, you may be able to request books from any other library in the province (including university law libraries), and they will be sent to your local library. This is called an “interlibrary loan.” The staff at your local library can help you request the books you need from other libraries.

You can find your local public library in the following resource.

PDF Library Directory
Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs
English

The Alberta Library (TAL)

The Alberta Library (TAL) is a network of more than 300 library locations all across Alberta. If you have a library card with one of the member libraries, you can sign up at any of the other libraries to check books out. Then you can return the materials to any member library when they are due. You can also request interlibrary loans through the TAL catalogue, and they will be delivered to your local library.

See if your local library is a member of TAL in the following resource.

Web Find a Library
The Alberta Library
English

You can sign up for a TAL card at your local library. You will need to take this special TAL card to other member libraries if you want to check out books from them. Be aware that you will need to register your TAL card with every different library that you want to check materials out from. You may also need to renew your TAL account with those libraries each year. For more information, see the following resources and talk to your local library.

Web TAL Card
The Alberta Library
English

Web Borrower Information
The Alberta Library
English

In addition to visiting TAL libraries and checking out books with your TAL card, you can also request books from any TAL library to be delivered to your local library. This is called an “interlibrary loan,” and it can be done online through TAL Online. You do not need a TAL card to do this. For TAL Online, you can use your local library card. For more information about using TAL Online, see the following resource.

Web TAL Online
The Alberta Library
English
Tip

LegalAve sometimes links to print resources that are not available online. For every print resource we link, we give you a direct link to TAL Online so you can request the item and have it delivered to your local library. The TAL Online listing also shows which libraries across Alberta own the item. So you can go to the library directly if you prefer, or if you need the item quickly.

University law libraries

Many people don’t know that university libraries are open to the public. Both the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the University of Calgary have law libraries as part of their law schools. Members of the public may use the materials there as well.

These university libraries can be a great resource for doing legal research. It can be helpful that these libraries are often open late in the evenings and on weekends. You may also be able to check out books from the university libraries. You will need to sign up for a special card to do so. (This is different from Alberta Law Libraries, where you can’t check out books unless you are a judge or a lawyer.)

Be Aware

University law libraries may have reduced hours or be closed during the summer months. You can still access online resources through any other university library. However, you may not have access to the physical books during that time. Or you may be able to request books to be sent to a different library to pick up.

University of Alberta (Edmonton): John A. Weir Law Library

The University of Alberta John A. Weir Law Library has extended hours for most of the year. It is staffed by law students who can help you use the library catalogue and find what you need. If you need more in-depth research help, you can make an appointment with a law librarian. See the following resource for the location, hours, and contact information for the John A. Weir Law Library.

Web John A. Weir Memorial Law Library
University of Alberta
English

Like the Alberta Law Libraries, the John A. Weir Law Library has online library guides about legal topics. See the following resource for a list of the legal guides available. Be aware that many of the resources can only be accessed from inside the library.

Web Library Guides: John A. Weir Memorial Law Library
University of Alberta
English

If you would like to borrow print books, you will need to sign up for a library card. There are three options for the public: a visitors’ borrowing card, an alumni borrowing card, and a TAL card. See the following resources for more information about these options, and see the “The Alberta Library” heading above for information about signing up for a TAL card.

Web Borrowing Privileges - Visitors
University of Alberta
English

Web Borrowing Privileges - Alumni
University of Alberta
English

Web Borrowing Privileges - The Alberta Library (TAL)
University of Alberta
English

If you would like to use the online resources and databases, you will need to request a temporary ID from any University of Alberta library service desk. This ID will allow you to use the online resources anywhere on campus for one day. See the following resource for hours and locations of all University of Alberta libraries.

Web Hours & Locations
University of Alberta
English

 

 

University of Calgary: Bennett Jones Law Library

 

 

The University of Calgary Bennett Jones Law Library has extended hours for most of the year. It is staffed by law students who can help you use the library catalogue and find what you need. See the following resource for the location, hours, and contact information for the Bennett Jones Law Library. Be aware that there are times when the library is open but no staff is available to answer reference questions.

Web Bennett Jones Law Library
University of Calgary
English

Like the Alberta Law Libraries, the Bennett Jones Law Library has online library guides about legal topics. See the following resource for a list of the legal guides available. Be aware that many of the resources can only be accessed from inside the library.

Web LibGuides - Law
University of Calgary
English

If you would like to borrow print books, you will need to sign up for a library card. There are two options for the public: a Community Reader Card (which has an annual fee) or a TAL card. See the following resource for more information about these options, and see the “The Alberta Library” heading above for information about signing up for a TAL card.

Web Community Users
University of Calgary
English

If you are a University of Calgary alumnus, you qualify for an alumni card. See the following resource for more information.

Web Alumni Users
University of Calgary
English

If you would like to use the online resources and databases, you will need to request a guest ID from any University of Calgary library service desk. Make sure you bring photo ID. Your guest ID will allow you to use some online resources on campus for one day. Each resource is different, so if you need access to a particular database, it’s best to call the library first to see if you can access it as a guest. See the following resource for hours and locations of all University of Calgary libraries.

Web Hours & Locations
University of Calgary
English
Evaluating legal information

When doing legal research, you will need to be sure that the information you find is “good” information. This means that the information:

  • is from a reliable source,
  • applies in Alberta,
  • is complete, and
  • is up-to-date.
Tip

Law librarians can help you learn how to use online legal resources, including government websites and legal databases. They can also help you learn to evaluate legal information, so you know you are getting your information from a good source. Contact your local law library for more information.

Web Our Libraries
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Ask yourself the following questions when doing legal research to make sure that you are getting the right information for your situation.

Who is providing the information?

Is it a non-profit organization? The government? A legal firm? Laws and legal processes are created by the government, so legal information from a government source is likely to be accurate. Libraries and universities are also reliable sources of legal information. 

For information that comes from other sources, is the website or organization neutral? Does it belong to an interest group or have controversial viewpoints? Are the opinions objective? If the main purpose of the website or organization is to promote a particular point of view, the information may be biased.

Does the information apply in Alberta?

Laws that are passed by the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta apply in Alberta. Laws from other provinces or other countries do not apply in Alberta. When researching online, it is not always easy to tell which laws are being referred to. Don’t assume it applies in Alberta without checking.

Why is the information provided?

What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform? To sell? To promote a point of view? If the main purpose of providing the information is to sell you something, the information may not be complete.

Is the information current?

Can you find a date anywhere on the web page or material? If you can’t find a date, relying on the information is risky. Laws often change, and so do interpretations of the law by the courts.

More information

See the following resources for more information about evaluating legal information.

PDF Is it Reliable? 7 Clues to Good Legal Information Online
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Video Is It Reliable? - 7 Clues to Good Legal Information Online
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta (via YouTube)
English

Web A checklist about reliable online legal information
Community Legal Education Ontario
English

Web Evaluating Print vs. Internet Sources
Purdue University
English

Web Evaluating resources: Home
University of California
English

Web Evaluate Web Pages
Widener University
English
See the links on the left of the page for more information about evaluating different types of resources.

Web Information Quality
Justia
English
Online searching: Tips and tricks

When searching for any information online, there are some techniques you can use to get better results. For more information and examples of things you can do on different online search engines, see the following resources.

Web Searching with a Search Engine
Purdue University
English


Web Resources to Search the Invisible Web
Purdue University
English

Web Using Keywords and Boolean Logic – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web Opérateurs booléens – Introduction
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Web Search Strategy – Cast Your Net Wide
Law Society of Saskatchewan
English

When searching for legal information online, many people overlook some useful resources, such as legal blogs and wikis. See the following resources for tips about other places to look online for legal information.

Web Legal research on the Internet
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Step 1: Secondary Sources - Other Sources
University of Toronto
English

Web Law Blogs | News
Ted Tjaden
English

Web Blogs and web-based secondary legal materials
University of Victoria
English
Step 1: Finding secondary sources

Most people start their legal research with secondary sources. This is because:

  • they are easier to understand than primary sources;
  • they give background information on the topic; and
  • they help to identify the primary sources that apply to the topic.

Without secondary sources to point you in the right direction, it could be hard to find exactly which laws and cases may apply to your situation. You can also use the terms, phrases, and keywords that you find in secondary sources to help you search for primary sources.

See the following resources for an overview of what secondary sources are and where to find them.

Web Secondary Sources – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web Les sources secondaires et les périodiques juridiques – Introduction
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Web Step 2: Primary Sources of Law: Canadian Case Law
University of Toronto
English

Web Doctrine
Université de Moncton
French

Legal encyclopedias

Legal encyclopedias are a great place to start your research. They are organized by topic just like other encyclopedias.

A legal encyclopedia will give you:

  • a short description of the issue;
  • a list of the legislation that applies to the topic; and
  • any important cases that have dealt with the topic to help guide your research.

Two of the most popular legal encyclopedias are the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest and Halsbury’s Laws of Canada. See the following resources for more information about legal encyclopedias.

Web Encyclopedias: When and how to use a legal encyclopedia
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Secondary Sources – Legal Encyclopedias
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web Les sources secondaires et les périodiques juridiques – Les encyclopédies juridiques
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Web Step 1: Secondary Sources - Legal Encyclopedias
University of Toronto
English

Web Beginning Your Research: Legal Encyclopedias
University of British Columbia
English

You can find print copies of these encyclopedias at law libraries across Alberta. They are also available through online databases:

  • The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest is on the Westlaw database
  • Halsbury’s Laws of Canada is on the Quicklaw database

All Alberta Law Library locations and the university law libraries will have access to at least one of these databases that you can use from within the library. See the “Using online legal resources” section below for more information on how to use these databases.

Case digests

After reading about your topic in legal encyclopedias, you might also want to look at “case digests.” These books are divided by topic, and simply list cases that have dealt with the topic. Case digests will have more references to cases than what you will find in legal encyclopedias. They are a good source if you need more in-depth coverage or a larger variety of cases.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Case digests
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Beginning Your Research: Case Digests
University of British Columbia
English

Web Case digests
University of Victoria
English


Web Case Law and the Canadian Abridgement – Case Digests
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web La juriprudence et le Canadian Abridgment – Résumés de décisions
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Textbooks

Legal textbooks will often give you the same information that you find in the encyclopedias, but will go into much more detail. They are usually written for judges and lawyers. This means that they can be quite difficult to read if you are not familiar with the law or the topic. The library guides listed above will often recommend textbooks on your topic. Or you can search library catalogues yourself for textbooks on your topic.

For more information about using legal textbooks in your research, see the following resources.

Web Step 1: Secondary Sources - Books
University of Toronto
English

Web Secondary Sources – Textbooks: Expert Authority on Settled Law
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web Les sources secondaires et les périodiques juridiques – Les textes : une autorité certaine sur le droit établi
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Web Beginning Your Research: Legal Textbooks
University of British Columbia
English

Web About books: legal textbooks and treatises
University of Victoria
English

The following resources include suggested textbooks about family law and other legal topics.

PDF Key Titles
University of Alberta
English

Web Suggested Textbooks
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Family Law Resources: Textbooks
University of Toronto
English
This resource is from Ontario, so it may direct you to books that only apply in Ontario. Be sure you know which laws apply to your situation in Alberta.

You may also want to look at “annotations” of the law. Annotations are summaries or commentaries on a section of a statute. They can:

  • explain the section,
  • give an example of its meaning,
  • discuss its history, and
  • list cases that have considered the section.

Examples of annotations in family law are in the following resources, which are not available online. The links below will give you an overview of the resources, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the “Finding and using libraries across Alberta” section above.

Book The 2017 Annotated Alberta Family Law Act
Thomson Reuters Canada
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.

Book The 2017 Annotated Divorce Act
Thomson Reuters Canada
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.

Book Consolidated Alberta Family Law Statutes
Thomson Reuters Canada
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library.

Legal self-help books

Some books on legal topics can be very helpful in understanding the whole legal picture. Many are written for non-lawyers, so they’re easier to understand than legal textbooks.

The University of Alberta Law Library has put together a guide of self-help resources for non-lawyers. See the following resource for the guide—you will need to choose your topic from the left of the screen.

Web Self Help Legal Resources
University of Alberta
English

Another good source of self-help books is Self-Counsel Press. You can see a list of their books in the following resource. Many libraries in Alberta have the books for you to check out. See the “Using library resources” section above for more information about where to find Self-Counsel Press books.

Web Law Books
Self-Counsel Press
English

Journal articles

You may also want to read journal articles written by legal professionals about your topic. These articles may analyze the topic very closely, and discuss new changes to the topic. But they are often difficult to read.

Law libraries will have a collection of print journals that you can look through. However, if you are not sure exactly what article you want, it’s probably easier to use a database and search for your topic using keywords. Two popular databases for legal journal articles are HeinOnline and LawSource. Check with your local library to see if they have a subscription to these databases.

For more information about where to find articles and journals, see the following resources.

Web Find Articles
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Finding Journal Articles
University of Alberta
English

Web Journals
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Journals and seminar papers
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English


Web Legal Journals and Periodicals – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English

Web Law-Related Journals
Ted Tjaden
English

Web Journal Articles and Papers
University of Victoria
English

Web Beginning Your Research: Legal Periodicals
University of British Columbia
English

See the “Using online legal resources” section below for more information on how to use these databases.

Legal dictionaries

When doing legal research, you will probably come across confusing words or phrases. Even people who are legal professionals sometimes don’t understand the meaning of the words in the documents they are looking at. Also, some words mean different things in legal situations than they do in everyday use.

For this reason, any law library will have legal dictionaries available to define the words used in a legal setting. There are also online versions of these dictionaries available through legal databases such as Quicklaw or Westlaw/LawSource. Check with your local library to see what they offer online.

Also, sometimes there has been confusion about what a word or term was supposed to mean in a law or a judge’s decision. Judges will sometimes “interpret” these words and phrases to try to clear up the confusion. When that happens, the judge’s definition is included in something called “Words & Phrases Judicially Defined.” You can also find these in every law library and on legal databases.

Be Aware

You will also find definitions of legal terms in glossaries. These tend to have shorter, simpler definitions. They are unlikely to mention cases or interpretations by judges. Glossaries can be a good place to begin, but later you may need more expanded definitions. For links to some glossaries, see the “What the words mean” section on the Law tab of this Information Page.

See the following resources for more information about legal dictionaries.

Web Secondary Sources – Legal Dictionaries & Books of Words and Phrases
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.


Web Words and phrases research
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English


Web About legal dictionaries and words and phrases
University of Victoria
English

Web Beginning Your Research: Dictionaries
University of British Columbia
English

Web Beginning Your Research: Words & Phrases
University of British Columbia
English

Web Reference Tools
Ted Tjaden
English
See “Legal Dictionaries / Words & Phrases / Abbreviations.”
 

Legal blogs and websites

Many lawyers write articles and post them to a personal or professional website that’s available online for free. These are often the resources that will come up when you search Google for your topic. Because anyone can post almost anything they want online, you need to be very careful when using legal blogs and websites in your research.

Many websites may have good background information on your topic, and may even cite useful primary sources for your research. However, others may have wrong or outdated information. Sometimes the main purpose of the website is to get you to hire them. You should always verify any information that you get from a private website. Government and non-profit legal information websites are usually better sources of information.

For a list of Canadian law blogs, see the following resources.

Web Lawblogs.ca
The Canadian Law Blogs
English


Web BlawgSearch
Justia
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Step 2: Finding and using relevant primary sources

Primary sources are the actual laws or legal documents themselves. The secondary sources you find on your topic will probably refer you to many primary sources that deal with your topic. You can find the full text of those primary sources in print (at a law library) or online.

Finding laws and regulations

You will find current laws and regulations in different places, depending on whether it is a federal law or a provincial law that applies to your situation. See the following resources for where to begin looking for Canadian legislation.

Web Find Legislation
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Legislation Table
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Legislation - Alberta: In this Guide
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Legislation - Federal: In this Guide
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Legislation
University of Alberta
English
Click on the links on the left of the screen for more information.


Web Federal statutes and regulations
University of Calgary
English

Web Guides: Federal Legislation
Courthouse Libraries BC
English

Presentation Finding and Updating Legislation
Emily Landriault
English

Web Legislation
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Audio/Web 

Audio/Web 

Web Federal Legislation – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web Guide to Canadian Legal Information
Department of Justice Canada
English

French resources:

Web La législation fédérale – Introduction
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Web Législation
Université de Moncton
French

Web Trouver des lois, règlements, jugements ou décisions des gouvernements
Éducaloi
French
Soyez conscient, à partir de là, vous pouvez trouver des lois et règlements (en français) du gouvernement fédéral. Vous ne pouvez pas trouver lois de l'Alberta. Les lois de l'Alberta ne sont pas rédigés en français.

Web Guide canadien d’information juridique
Department of Justice Canada
French

After you find the laws that may apply to you, you will need to keep it organized. The following resource can help with that.

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Federal government websites
 

Federal laws and regulations can be found on the Government of Canada’s Justice Laws website.

Web Justice Laws Website
Department of Justice Canada
English

Web Site Web de la législation (Justice)
Department of Justice Canada
French

LEGISinfo has information about the status of federal bills going back to 2001. On this site, you can see the details of bills as they passed through the Senate and House of Commons, including:

  • the text when it was first introduced,
  • anything that was changed during the process,
  • any summaries written about the bill during the process, and
  • speeches that were made about the bill.

This information can sometimes be helpful if you are trying to determine the “intent” of a law.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web LEGISinfo
Government of Canada
English

Web LEGISinfo
Government of Canada
French

Web LEGISinfo: Frequently Asked Questions
Parliament of Canada
English

Web LEGISinfo: Foire aux questions
Parliament of Canada
French

 

Alberta government websites

Alberta laws and regulations can be found on the Alberta Queen’s Printer website.

Web Laws Online/Catalogue
Alberta Queen's Printer
English

Web A User's Guide to Legislation
Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General
English
Be Aware

In Alberta, the official versions of statutes and regulations are the print versions. To make sure you have the most recent version of the law, check with a law library to see their print collection.

To see the current status of an Alberta bill that is being debated, see the following resources.

Web Bills and Amendments
Legislative Assembly of Alberta
English

Video Video Tutorials
Alberta Law Libraries
English

To see debates and speeches from previous bills in Alberta, you will need to look at something called the “Alberta Hansard.” Staff at the Legislature Library can help with this. See the following resources for more information.

Web All About Hansard
Legislative Assembly of Alberta
English

Web Library Services
Legislative Assembly of Alberta
English

 

How to read a statute

Once you find a statute, you will need to know how it is organized so you can find the information that applies to you. All statutes are organized in the same way, and include the following elements:

  • title
  • purpose
  • definitions
  • body
  • coming into force

For more information about what these sections mean and how to read a statute, see the following resources.

PDF The Structure of an Act
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web A User's Guide to Legislation
Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General
English
See “Organization of a Statute (Act).”

French resources:

Web Terminologie anglaise et française
Université de Moncton
French

Web Éléments des lois : Le texte proprement dit
Department of Justice Canada
French

Web Entrée en vigueur des lois et des règlements
Université de Moncton
French

Finding case law

You can find Canadian cases in print or through online databases. The following resources give a good overview of your options.

Web Researching Cases: Finding cases
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Find Cases
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Canadian Cases and Decisions
University of Calgary
English

Web Finding Caselaw
University of Alberta
English

Web Legal Research Essentials: Finding Cases on Point
Courthouse Libraries BC
English
This resource is from outside Alberta and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Web Case law: LawSource and Quicklaw
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Case Law and the Canadian Abridgement – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web How Do I Find Case Law?
Clicklaw
English

French resources:

Web La jurisprudence et le Canadian Abridgment – Introduction
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Web Jurisprudence
Université de Moncton
French

Interactive Trouver une décision
Société québécoise d'information juridique
French
Soyez conscient, à partir de là, vous pouvez rechercher les cas de la Cour suprême du Canada et les tribunaux fédéraux, Vous ne pouvez pas rechercher des cas dans les tribunaux de l'Alberta. Les décisions des tribunaux du Québec ne seront généralement pas utile pour les cas de l'Alberta.

Web Guide canadien d’information juridique
Department of Justice Canada
French

After you find relevant case law, you will need to keep it organized. The following resources can help with that.

Web Applying the Law Worksheet
Justice Education Society
English

Web Case Law Worksheet
Justice Education Society
English

 

Finding case law in print

If you want the print versions of case law, you will need to go to a law library. Cases in print are published in “case reporters” (also called “law reports”). These case reporters do not include all the decisions ever made in Canadian courts: some are “unreported.” This is because the reporters usually only include important cases that may set “precedents” for future decisions, or cases that are dealing with a new area of law.

If a case is “unreported,” that means it has not been published in a law report. Cases that are unreported are usually available from an online database (see below). In rare cases, you may have to get a case directly from the court that made the decision.

The law library will also have a set of books called Canadian Case Citations. These reference books will give you the decisions, history, and consideration of Canadian cases. However, it is usually easier to do this using one of the online databases. Law librarians can help you with this.

Finding case law online

You can also find Canadian cases online for free through a website called CanLII. Other popular databases for searching case law are Westlaw and Quicklaw, and most law libraries will have access to at least one of those databases. See the “Using online legal resources” section below for more information about your online options.

Understanding case citations

When you are researching case law, you will come across many references to other cases. It is important to know how to read these citations, and know the difference between the various kinds of citations. For more information, see the following resources.

Web Reading a Case Citation
University of Calgary
English

Web Legal Citations – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web Citations juridiques – Introduction
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Web Legal Citation
Queen's University
English

Web How Do I Find Case Law?
Clicklaw
English
See “Understanding how cases are cited.”

Web Reference Tools
Ted Tjaden
English
See “Legal Citation.”
Step 3: “Noting up” legislation and cases

There are many tools to help you “note up” the legislation and cases you find to make sure you have the most recent information about them. Law libraries will have print books to help you. There are also online websites and databases that have features for noting up.

Noting up legislation

The following resources give a good overview of where you can go to note up legislation, including both laws and regulations. See the “Using online legal resources” section for more information about using CanLII, Westlaw, and Quicklaw to note up legislation.

Web Noting Up a Statute
University of Alberta
English

Presentation Finding and Updating Legislation
Emily Landriault
English

Web Research 101: How to Note-Up Statutes and Regulations
Law Society of Upper Canada
English

Noting up cases

The following resources describe where you can go to note up Canadian cases in print or online. See the “Using online legal resources” section for more information about using CanLII, Westlaw, and Quicklaw to note up cases.

Web Researching Cases: Judicial consideration
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Web Noting Up Caselaw
University of Alberta
English

PDF Noting Up Cases
Law Society of Saskatchewan
English

Web Case Law and the Canadian Abridgement – Updating and Noting-Up Cases
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web La juriprudence et le Canadian Abridgment – Mise à jour et vérification du traitement judiciaire des décisions
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

Using online legal resources: An introduction

Many people prefer to do most of their legal research online. This is because searching for topics can be easier, and sometimes the most current information is online. However, there are so many places to find legal information online that it can be hard to know what the best online sources are. Also, some online legal resources are free to the public (such as government websites and CanLII), while others require a subscription. Depending on your legal research needs, you may need some of the features that are only available through paid databases like Quicklaw or Westlaw. 

Where to start 

The following resources will give you an idea of where to start and the differences between some of the common online databases. These databases are described in more detail in the following sections.

Web Making Good Choices: Canadian Electronic Research Sources
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English

Web Canadian Electronic Research Sources: Conclusions
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English
​​
Tip

Law librarians can help you learn how to use online legal resources, including government websites and legal databases. They can also help you learn to evaluate legal information, so you know you are getting your information from a good source. Contact your local law library for more information.​

Web Our Libraries
Alberta Law Libraries
English

Staying up-to-date

Sometimes, the law may be changing as you are researching your topic. Or your matter may take a long time to get to court. In these cases, there are tools that can help you stay up-to-date with the most recent version of the law. They may automatically notify you when something changes or when a new decision is made. See the following resources for more information about these tools.

Web Current awareness
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English
​​
​​
Web Journals and seminar papers
The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
English
See “Using RSS feeds and automated clipping services.”

Free online legal resources: Government websites, CanLII, and Google Scholar

Government websites

Government websites often have the most up-to-date legal information, including the most recent case law and legislation. See the “Step 2: Finding relevant primary sources” section above for links to government websites across Canada.

CanLII

CanLII is a free online database of court decisions, tribunal decisions, statutes, and regulations from all Canadian provinces and the Canadian federal government. It can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. However, be aware that CanLII’s best coverage is for more recent cases (within the past 15 years). If you need older cases or more complete information, you may need to use different sources.

CanLII is a great resource for legal research, and it is worth learning how to use it so you get the best results. See the following resources for tips on searching CanLII.

Web CanLII Help
CanLII
English

Video Getting started with CanLII
CanLII (via YouTube)
English


Web How can I research other family law cases?
Legal Services Society
English

Web CanLII Features
CanLII
English

Web Using CanLII – Introduction
University of Ottawa
English
Click “Next Page” at the bottom of the page to continue reading.

Web CanLII’s Boolean Operators (Tip of the Week)
Law Society of Saskatchewan
English

Webinar Advanced CanLII - Seven Tips for Better Searching
Courthouse Libraries BC (via Vimeo)
English

Video Module 6: Finding More Cases: Noting Up Using CanLII
Courthouse Libraries BC (via Vimeo)
English

Video Searching CanLII (3) Noting up a Case with CanLII
Law Society of Saskatchewan (via Vimeo)
English

French resources:

Web Aide
CanLII
French

Video travailler avec CanLII
CanLII
French

PDF Le guide d’introduction à CanLII
The National Self-Represented Litigants Project
French

Web Utiliser Can-LII – Introduction
University of Ottawa
French
Cliquez sur “Page suivante” en bas de la page Web pour continuer à lire.

If you want to be notified whenever a new case on your topic is added to CanLII, you can subscribe for RSS updates. See the following resource for information about how to sign up for exactly what you want.

Web RSS Feeds
CanLII
English

CanLII also provides a website called CanLII Connects where legal professionals discuss current court cases and legal issues in Canada. This type of commentary can be a useful secondary source for research. See the following resource for more information.

Web CanLII Connects
CanLII
English

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a specific search tool that lets you search for Canadian legal journal articles online. Sometimes, you can read the full text of an article for free. Other times, you may just get a preview of the article or a description of it. In those cases, you would need to find the full article through a law library (either in print or through one of their subscription databases).

Be Aware

Google Scholar also has an option to search case law, but it is limited to U.S. case law.

For more information about using Google Scholar for Canadian legal research, see the following resources.


Web Legal Research Hack: Google Scholar Shortcuts
Courthouse Libraries BC
English

Web Have You Heard about the Google Scholar Button?
University of Toronto
English

Web Searching Law Journals on Google Scholar
Courthouse Libraries BC
English
Commercial online legal resources: Quicklaw, Westlaw/LawSource, HeinOnline, and e-books

Many law firms and libraries subscribe to commercial databases. There are many reasons you may want to use a subscription database instead of CanLII, or in addition to CanLII.

  • Older cases are available. CanLII’s best coverage is for the past 15 years. If you need to research an older case, you might need to use a subscription database.
  • Most recent information. Subscription databases add court decisions and legislation changes to their databases very soon after they are available. CanLII may take a few days, depending on the court and the province.
  • Tools for noting up cases and legislation. Subscription databases have the money to develop user-friendly tools for noting up.
  • Case summaries and commentary. Subscription databases have a team of legal professionals working for them, so they can summarize cases and may link to other useful cases or resources.

Because the databases below require a subscription, you will only be able to access them from a library. Alberta Law Libraries and university law libraries are the most likely to have them. But you can also check with your local public library to see what legal databases they offer.

Be Aware

Law libraries and public libraries have subscriptions to legal databases you can use, but most of them are only available for you to use within the library. In other words, even if you have a library card and can access other library resources from home, you may have to go into the library to use their legal databases.

Quicklaw

The Quicklaw database includes Halsbury’s Laws of Canada, legislation, court cases, and journal articles. For more information about getting started with Quicklaw, see the following resource.

Web LexisNexis Training Resources
LexisNexis Canada
English

Quicklaw also includes a special feature to help you note up cases called QuickCITE. See the following resource for more information on how to use QuickCITE.

PDF Quicklaw Cheat Sheet: Noting Up the Law
LexisNexis Canada
English

Westlaw (including LawSource)

The Westlaw database includes the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest, legislation, court cases, and journal articles. It also includes LawSource, which is a smaller database of Canadian legal information that some libraries may subscribe to by itself. For more information about getting started with Westlaw (or LawSource), see the following resources.

Web Customer Learning Centre: Overview
Thomson Reuters Canada
English

Web Centre d'apprentissage pour les clients : Aperçu
Thomson Reuters Canada
French

PDF LawSource - Tips
Thomson Reuters Canada
English

Westlaw also includes a special feature to help you note up cases called KeyCite. See the following resource for information on how to use KeyCite. Be aware that KeyCite is not included in the LawSource database, so if you need the feature, you will need to go to a library with a full Westlaw subscription.

HeinOnline

HeinOnline has one of the largest collections of legal journal articles, including much legal history from all over the world. For more information about using HeinOnline, see the following resources.

PDF Getting Started in HeinOnline
HeinOnline
English

Web HeinOnline Knowledge Base
HeinOnline
English


Video Quick Start Guide to HeinOnline
HeinOnline (via YouTube)
English

Video HeinOnline: Videos
HeinOnline (via YouTube)
English

Accessing online books

Some legal books and textbooks may be available as e-books through your local library. You can search your library’s catalogue to see what they have available. These e-books are often available from your home, so you don’t have to go into the library itself to access them. Check with your local library to see what they have in their collection.

PDF Library Directory
Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs
English

University libraries also often have e-books available, but you may only be able to access them from inside the library. Check with your local college or university library to see what their policies are about accessing e-books if you are not a student. See the following resources for contact information for the University of Alberta and University of Calgary libraries.

Web John A. Weir Memorial Law Library
University of Alberta
English

Web Bennett Jones Law Library
University of Calgary
English

Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

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