There are three possible patterns to follow when citing a case. These patterns are explained in detail in the next three sections of this guide.
To determine which of these patterns you should use, answer the following questions.
Question 1: “Does the case have a neutral citation?” (If you do not know what a neutral citation looks like, see the explanation below)
> If the answer is YES, you must follow Pattern #1: Citing a Case with a Neutral Citation
> If the answer is NO, go to Question 2.
Question 2: “Does the case have a CanLII citation?” (If you do not know what a CanLII citation looks like, see the explanation below)
> If the answer is YES, you may follow Pattern #2: Citing a Case with a CanLII Citation
> If the answer is NO, you must follow Pattern #3: Citing a Case with Other Sources
In 1999, Canadian courts began assigning neutral citations to their judgments (the start date varies depending on the court). The neutral citation is only a case identifier and does not indicate where a case can be found. It consists of three parts:
For example, Lovelace v Ontario has the neutral citation 2000 SCC 37:
The easiest way to determine if a case has a neutral citation is to follow these steps:
For example, let's say you're looking at a Supreme Court of Canada decision from 2019. The citation options in your database include the following:
If we look at Appendix B-3, we can see that the neutral citation for the Supreme Court of Canada is SCC. Therefore, we pick out the citation from this list that has that abbreviation: 2019 SCC 65. This is our neutral citation, and we can now proceed with citing this case according to Pattern #1.
The CanLII citation is a unique, permanent identifier for decisions available on CanLII. When a decision has a neutral citation assigned by the issuing court, the CanLII citation is entirely based upon the neutral citation (a reference to CanLII is simply added between parentheses after the neutral citation). In these cases, you must follow Pattern #1: Citing a Case with a Neutral Citation.
example: 2004 ABCA 38 (CanLII)
When the court or tribunal has not assigned a neutral citation to a decision, the CanLII citation is composed of the year the decision was rendered followed by "CanLII", and a sequential number. In these cases, you may follow Pattern #2: Citing a Case with a CanLII Citation.
example: 2002 CanLII 3562
Note that the CanLII citation is always posted clearly in the header of every decision published on CanLII.