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Legal Citation with the 9th edition of the McGill Guide

This guide provides an introduction to legal citation in Canada.

Neutral Citations

Neutral Citations

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:

  • year of decision
  • abbreviation of the court
  • an ordinal number

For example, Lovelace v Ontario has the neutral citation 2000 SCC 37:

  • 2000 = year of the decision
  • SCC = court (Supreme Court of Canada)
  • 37 = ordinal number (37th case decided in 2000)

Key Question: Does the case have a neutral citation?

There are two possible patterns to follow when citing a case. The answer to the question, "Does the case have a neutral citation?," will determine which of the two case citation patterns to follow. The two patterns are explained in detail in the next two sections of this guide.

The easiest way to determine if a case has a neutral citation is to follow these steps:

  1. Pull up the case on a database like Westlaw, Lexis, or CanLII and look over citations provided by that database. Depending on the database, case citation options may appear in several locations, including near/below the style of cause, in a separate field called "citation", or at the very top of the document. 
  2. Determine which court handed down the decision.
  3. Look up the neutral citation abbreviation for that court in Appendix B-3 of the McGill Guide. 
  4. If the case you're looking at has a citation that matches the neutral citation abbreviation, then you can follow case citation Pattern #1 using that citation. 

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:

2019 CarswellNat 7883, 2019 SCC 65, 2019 CSC 65, [2019] 4 S.C.R. 654, [2019] S.C.J. No. 65, 312 A.C.W.S. (3d) 460, 441 D.L.R. (4th) 1, 59 Admin. L.R. (6th) 1, 69 Imm. L.R. (4th) 1, EYB 2019-335761.


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.