Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Canadian Legal Research

This guide details researching Canadian law at the federal and provincial level.

Federal Cases

The two main court systems in Canada are federal and provincial with the highest court being the Supreme Court of Canada. The Federal Court system is comprised of the Federal Court (trial level), the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada. The provincial courts are organized into a superior court and an appellate court (usually known as the Court of Appeal) with appeals then heard in the Supreme Court.

The most useful publication for locating case law is the Canadian Abridgment it is available through Westlaw [ABRIDGMENT] and in print. This is a comprehensive digest which provides access to cases, unreported decisions, statutes and secondary literature. Coverage extends to federal and provincial materials with some exceptions. The Wolff library no longer updates the Abridgment, but it can be found at IINTL KE173. C25 2003. Using the Abridgment can be challenging to use and you may wish to consult the Canadian Abridgment Instruction Manual INTL KE173.B55 1991.

Federal case law is accessible online from free resources and from subscription research platforms.  The Georgetown Law Library also has a selection of Canadian case law reporters in print.  Key sources are listed below.

Free Electronic Resources

  • Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII)
    This is a comprehensive web portal providing free online access to federal and provincial case law. Decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal and other courts are included. Check the site for individual court coverage.
     
  • Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada (site hosted by Lexum on behalf of the Supreme Court of Canada)
    Browse by date, case name or citation.  Or search by keyword.  For optimal results, use the Advanced Search template.  Coverage from 1877-present.
     
  • Federal Court Decisions
    The lading page offers a basic search box for keyword searching.  To search by date, by case name or by citation, use the links on the menu to the left.  For optimal results, use Advanced Search template.  Coverage from 1990-present.
     

Subscription Legal Research Platforms

  • Lexis
    Begin by clicking on the Canada Case Law link.  On the following page, select one of the federal court databases listed, (e.g. Canada Federal Court Reports, Canada Supreme Court Reports, etc.).  Dates of coverage vary by database.  To view a database description, click on the icon in the shape of a lower case letter i to the right of the database name.
     
  • Westlaw (Georgetown Law Only)
    From the Canada Cases & Decisions landing page, select one of the following databases:  Supreme Court of Canada and Privy Council, All Federal or Federal Court of Canada.  Dates of coverage vary by database.  After making your selection, click on the icon in the shape of a lower case letter i below the database name to view a description of the database.


Print Resources

  • Canada Supreme Court Reports (S.C.R.) KE140 1970
    The Supreme court is the highest court for both civil and criminal matters, this reporter has most of the published Supreme court cases in both English and French, with unpublished cases in English.  Note that cases published in this reporter are available on both Lexis and Westlaw.
     
  • Canada Federal Court Reports (F.C.).  INTL KE142 1971  (1971-2003)
    Federal Court Reports. INTL KE142 2004 (2004 - present)
    Includes judgments issued by the Federal Court of Appeal and selected decisions from the Federal Court Trial Division. Note that cases published in this reporter also are available on Lexis and Westlaw.
     
  • Dominion Law Reports. (D.L.R.) INTL KE125.5 .D66
    Selectively publishes noteworthy civil and criminal cases decided at both the federal and provincial level. For some cases, full opinions are included.  For others, only summaries are provided.  Updated regularly.