Canadian Legal Research

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

Federal Case Law

Brief Overview of the Canadian Court System

Like the U.S., Canada has two parallel court systems.  The federal court system is comprised of the Federal Court (trial level), the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada.  In addition, there is a separate Tax Court and a system of military courts.  The jurisdiction of federal courts is limited to matters expressly designated by federal statutes. 

Each Canadian province and territory has a provincial or territorial court, a superior court, and a provincial or territorial court of appeal.  Provincial and territorial courts may hear cases on all matters, except for those specifically excluded by federal statute.  The Supreme Court of Canada serves as the final court of appeal on all matters, both federal and provincial.  For more detailed information about the Canadian court system, visit the website of the Canadian Judicial Council.

Federal case law is accessible online from free websites and from subscription legal research platforms.  The Georgetown Law Library also has a selection of Canadian case law reporters in print.  Key sources are described 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. Dates of coverage vary by court.
  • Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada
    This case law database is hosted by Lexum, a private Web design company, 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

Print Resources

  • Dominion Law Reports (D.L.R.).  KE125.5 .D66 (in print:  1912-present)
    Dominion Law Reports (D.L.R.) Digitized scans available on LLMC Digital (1912-1922) and (1923-1930)
    This reporter selectively publishes noteworthy civil and criminal cases decided at both the federal and provincial level. For many cases, the full text of the opinion is included, along with summaries of the facts and the holding and other editorial enhancements.  For other cases, only summaries are provided.  Still published in print.
  • Canada Supreme Court Reports (S.C.R.) on HeinOnline (electronic access to PDF scans:  1876 - present)
    Canada Supreme Court Reports (S.C.R.).  KE140 1970 (in print:  1970 - 2013)
    This official reporter publishes Supreme Court opinions in both English and French in parallel columns.  It provides detailed summaries of the facts and holdings, along with other editorial enhancements.  As of 2014, the reporter is published electronically and is no longer available in print.
  • Federal Court Reports (F.C.) KE142 2004 (in print:  2004 - 2012)
    Canada Federal Court Reports.  KE142 1971  (in print:  1971 - 2003)
    This print reporter includes judgments issued by the Federal Court of Appeal and selected decisions from the Federal Court Trial Division.  The Law Library canceled its print subscription in 2013.  If you have a citation to a case decided after 2012, use Lexis, Westlaw or one of the free electronic resources described above.
  • Canadian Abridgment (3d ed.).  KE173 .C35 2003 (canceled in print; last update in 2008)
    Canadian Abridgment Instruction Manual.  KE173 .B55 1991
    This comprehensive print digest covers both federal and provincial cases, including some unreported decisions.  Use it to identify cases by subject matter.  Consult the Instruction Manual to view the complete list of subject titles (topical outline).  Although it is no longer updated in print, it is still very useful for identifying cases decided prior to 2008.  Cases summarized in the Canadian Abridgement are available in full text on Westlaw.  From the Canada Cases and Decisions landing page, scroll down to the "By Topic" heading and select a topic.