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Legal Research Manual

This edition of Legal Research Manual builds on many previous editions. While the manual is designed principally for use with the first year legal research classes, upper year law students will also find it a useful reference.

Finding Statutes & Bill Information (Electronic Sources)

Electronic Sources for Statutes

  • Justice Laws Website - Canadian Government website with access to current federal legislation.
  • E-Laws - Ontario Government website with access to current legislation.
  • CanLII - Non-profit website with access to legislative materials from all Canadian jurisdictions.
  • WestlawNext Canada - Commercial database with access to legislative materials from all Canadian jurisdictions.
  • Lexis Advance Quicklaw - Commercial database with access to legislative materials from all Canadian jurisdictions.

Steps to Finding Statutes & Bill Information

The following five steps will guide you through the process of finding current statutes and bill information online.  These general steps are applicable to all of the electronic sources listed above. The examples provided in each step are from the Government of Canada's Justice Laws Website.

Step 1. Select a Database to Search

As shown above, there are several databases and websites that provide access to legislation.  When deciding which one to use, consider the following factors: scope of the content, search functionality, any costs associated with searching, and the currency of the information contained within it. When it comes to searching for Canadian legislation, government websites tend to be more up-to-date than other commercial databases.  They also have the added advantage of being free.

Step 2. Search for a Specific Statute

Most databases give you the option to locate a statute with a simple name or citation search. If you already know the name or citation of the statute you need, you can retrieve it fairly easily. 

For example, to locate a specific act on the Justice Laws Website:

  • Go to Consolidated Acts (left hand menu option)
  • Fill in the name of the act in the 'Find a title' field, OR
  • Locate the act by clicking on the first letter of the name of the act in the alphabetical list of 'Acts by title'

Step 3. Construct a Search Statement

Most databases will let you perform a keyword search to find statutes containing particular words or phrases, either in the body of the act or the title. Different databases will have different rules for how keyword search statements must be constructed. Before performing a keyword search in a particular database, you should become familiar with the search commands to search that database, as well as any templates available for performing basic and advanced searches. For example, the Justice Laws Website contains a Basic Search template with three search fields: "keyword", "title", and "search in".  It also contains an Advanced Search template that offers more search options and the ability to search points in time for consolidated Acts and regulations.

Also, consider that the language used by the public to refer to or discuss a statute might be different from the actual language used by that statute.  For example, the sections of the statute setting out the Ontario "no-fault" automobile insurance scheme do not use the words "no-fault" in the section.

Step 4. Check the Currency Date

Statutes can be amended or repealed by Parliament at any time. Unless you are conducting historical legal research you will need to find the most up-to-date version of the statute possible. Therefore, it always necessary to identify the date when the statute was last amended by Parliament (more on this in Step 5).

You must also identify the date when the document you've retrieved was last updated by the database or website provider.  This is called the "currency date".   The currency date is usually located somewhere near the top of the document for most databases. 

There will almost always be a gap in time between the date the database was last updated and the present day.  For example, as of July 5, 2016, the Air Canada Public Participation Act, RSC 1985, c 35 (4th Supp.) was last updated on June 6, 2016 on the Justice Laws Website.  This is a month-long gap in time.  This gap must be accounted for by conducting a Status of Bills search (see below).

Step 5. Update via a Status of Bills Search

Although most of the databases mentioned above are kept fairly current, in order to fully update a piece of legislation one must consult the status of any bills which may make reference to that act.  This is of great importance as such bills will likely alter the statute. The status of recent bills may be found on the Department of Justice's LEGISinfo or the Legislative Assembly of Ontario's Bills.

Continuing with the example of the Air Canada Public Participation Act (above), a Status of Bills search must be conducted to account for the gap in time between the date when the Justice Laws Website was last updated (June 6, 2016) and the present day (July 5, 2016).  On the Department of Justice's LEGISinfo website, this search can be performed by:

  • clicking on 'LEGISinfo Advanced Search' (left menu option)
  • enter the name of the statute being updated in quotation marks, e.g. "air canada public participation act"
  • select the 'TITLE AND CONTENT' radio button and click Search.

The results show that Bill C-10 An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to provide for certain other measures received Royal Assent on June 22, 2016, sixteen days after the Justice Laws Website was last updated!