Step 2: Primary Sources of Law: Canadian Legislation

1) What is Legislation?
2) Background to The Legislative Process in Canada
3) The Law-Making Process
4) How a Bill becomes a Statute and How it Comes Into Force
5) Legislative Research Generally
6) Finding Statutes and Regulations on Government Websites
7) Finding Statutes and Regulations on CanLII
8) Other Sources of  Statutes and Regulations
9) Finding Statutes and Regulations in Print: a) Statutes and b) Regulations
10) Statutory Consideration and Judicial Interpretation (Noting Up)
11) Parliamentary Debates and Committee Reports
12) Tracing Legislative History

The law in Canada is made of two parts: Case law and Legislation. Both are primary sources for Canadian law.

1)  Introduction - What is Legislation?

  • Legislation is the law that is made by elected representatives from any level of government
  • Legislation is made to introduce a new law or to change or clarify existing laws.
  • There are three types of legislation: statutes, regulations and bylaws, all have the force of law, but each are enacted differently.
    • Statutes: are publicly debated by the federal parliament or provincial legislatures and voted upon before coming into force. Statutes state the broad principles or rules that govern our lives.
    • Regulations and Bylaws: regulations, created by federal or provincial bodies, and bylaws, created by municipal bodies, are the details that operationalize and allow for implementation of the statute.
    • For example, a motor vehicle statute may state there will be a maximum speed limit. The regulations under that might state the actual what the actual limit is.
    • Regulations and bylaws are "delegated legislation; "  the power to enact regulations is delegated by statute to a particular minister, or to cabinet or to an administrative body.

2) Background to the Legislative Process in Canada

  • Canada is a federal state; federal and provincial governments share governing and law making powers: These powers are enumerated in sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution.
  • Federal governments regulate matters that extend across Canada, such as banking, while the provincial government regulates local matters such as education.
  • There is some overlap between federal and provincial laws for those areas not defined in the Constitution

The Constitution

  • The Constitution is the highest law in Canada and all laws must be consistent with to be valid. The Constitution defines and limits legislative authority (who makes the law), executive authority (who enforces the laws), judicial power (who interprets the law) and the rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens.
  • The Constitution contains a number of documents, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which defines Canadian’s rights and freedoms with respect to  ;speech, religion, democratic rights, mobility rights, equality rights, language rights and legal rights, etc.

3) The Law-Making process: How Law is Created Introduction and Passage of a Bill

  • Legislation is created by first being introduced in the Legislature as a bill.
  • A bill is introduced only after there has been significant investigation and research into  the issue by the government or it is introduced by a member or interest group.
  • The government or member will then introduce a Bill to the Legislature which will, if passed, become the law
  • Each Bill will go through three stages or readings before it can become law.
    • First reading: The Bill is introduced by the responsible Minister, who explains its objectives and makes a motion for its formal introduction. If the members vote in favour of the Bill, it is assigned a number, printed and scheduled for future debate. First reading Bills typically include a summary of the legislation or explanatory note.
    • Second reading: The Bill is debated in Legislature, and then taken to a vote to allow the Bill to proceed to the committee stage (or directly to third reading).
      • Committee stage: Committees include members of parties represented in the Legislature. The Bill is discussed section by section and changes are made if necessary.
    • Third reading: This is the final debate of the Bill. If the vote carries, the bill is sent to the Governor General or Provincial Lieutenant-Governor for approval ("Royal Assent"). The bill is also assigned a statute chapter number at this time.

There are several types of bills:

  • Public or Government Bills: are introduced by the governing party and relate to laws of general application throughout the jurisdiction. Bills that originate in the House of Commons are prefixed with the letter "C" and numbered from 1-200. Bills that originate in the Senate are prefIxed with the letter "S." Provincial bills do not have a prefix.
  • Private Member's Bills: are introduced by any member of the legislature. At the Federal level, these Bills are numbered consecutively from -201 to -1000. Numbering schema differ for each province. Very few private member bills become law.
  • Private Bills: usually relate to a particular organization or individual. At the federal level, most Bills are introduced in the Senate and are numbered from -100l. Once again, numbering schema differ for each province.

Bills can found at:

  • The Federal and Provincial Government Websites. For a links to bills for each jurisdiction go to the Library’s Canadian Current Legislation Page  
  • Bound copies of older Federal and Ontario first reading Bills can be found in the Bora Laskin Library:
    ParI. Can. F7 (Row 5) ParI. Onto L7 (Row 13-14)

4) How a Bill becomes Legislation/Statute and How it Comes into Force

  • Federal Bills must pass three readings in the House of Commons and three readings in the Senate. Provincial Bills must pass three readings in the Legislature.
  • After a bill has been through the necessary readings, voted on and passed, it becomes an act of the Legislative body that passed it.
  • Even after a Bill has received Royal Assent, it may not be in force.

A Statute may come into force in one of three ways:

  • The statute will state the date when the bill comes into force. Such a statement is usually found at the end of the statute, or
  • The statute will state that it comes into force upon receiving Royal Assent,
  • The statute will state that it comes into force upon "proclamation." The date of proclamation is usually given in the Gazette, a publication used by the government to publish regulations and other notices. Federal bills must be published in the Canada Gazette, Part III before they are official.

In-force dates can be found in a number of sources:


  • The "Proclamations of Canada and Orders in Council Relating to the Coming into Force of Acts" table - in The Canada Gazette Part III available in print and online
  • Canada Statute Citator check theWeekly Bulletin Servicein print,
    Bora Laskin Law Library - Call Number: Stat. Can. A7 C36 (Short Term Loan)
  • Justice Laws Website:the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers tracks the history of each statute and its amendments
  • LegisINFOprovides coming into force information for each federal bill from January 2001 to present


For more information on the legislative process, consult any of the following excellent online guides:

5) Legislative Research Generally

Do not start you research by looking at statutes. Always consult the secondary sources first and then you will have references to the most appropriate statutes at hand. Simply searching a statute database is inefficient and will waste time.
As part of finding the text of the appropriate statute, you must make sure (if you are looking at a past event) that you are looking at the version of the statute that was in force at the time of the event. Otherwise you must locate the most up-to-date version of the statute with all its changes and amendments. In addition, you must note-up the statute by locating cases that that have interpreted that statute in order to make sure it is still good law.

Also keep in mind when researching that:

  • There may be several statutes that are applicable
  • Each case may require multiple and combination of statutes
  • Federal and provincial statutes may overlap so check both
  • Statutes are continually revised; check back to make sure information is current
  • Cases can affect the interpretation of statutes

6) Finding Statutes and Regulations on Government Websites

  • Every jurisdiction provides free full-text current consolidated statutes and regulations on the web. Links to these sites can be found on the Canadian Current Legislation Page.
  • Generally, these sites provide current versions of statutes but researchers should always confirm that the statute or provision is in force. Sites will provide in-force information via a link to the "Table of Public Statutes (Acts)."


  • Justice Laws Canada is the official online source for federal legislation. This site includes:
    • current consolidated statutes and regulations.
    • Past (i.e. point in time) consolidated statutes from  January 1, 2003 and regulations from March 22, 2006
    • Annual statutes from 2001


  • e-laws is the official online source for Ontario Legislation: This site includes
    • current consolidated statutes and regulations
    • Source Law (Annual Statutes from 2000
    • Period in time law (past consolidated statutes and regulations) from 2004

7) Finding Statutes and Regulations on CanLII

  • CanLII is a free database of current consolidated statutes, regulations and case law for Canadian jurisdictions. These statutes are provided to CanLII by the respective federal and provincial justice departments and so are fairly authoritative in content although they are not official. The site also includes some historical versions of the statutes. CanlII provides the ability to compare different versions side by side on the screen.  
  • Search:  by keyword or title
  • Browse: by jurisdiction and statute name to locate current statutes.

8) Other Sources of  Statutes and Regulations  

  • Consolidated texts contain all statutes and regulations relating to a particular topic. The Consolidated Ontario Family Law Statutes and Regulations, for example, includes the Child and Family Services Act, The Family Law Act, the Divorce Act, statutes concerning adoption, portions of the Income Tax Act and many other statute and regulations relating to family law. These are not necessarily up to date and so you will need to update the statute in order to ensure that your research is as thorough as possible. These can be located through the library catalogue.
  • Annotated texts include statutes and regulations as well as commentary and summaries of cases relating to a specific statute, for example Martin's Criminal Code. These can be located through the library catalogue.
  • Statute Citators are useful for updating statutes. Citators list each statute alphabetically by title and include references and the text of all changes and amendments to the statute since it became law or was last revised in print. The "Weekly Bulletin Service," filed at the front of each volume keeps the statutes up-to-date. They do not, however, consolidate the complete statute and you will have to refer to the official print sources

  • HeinOnline has historical federal and provincial statutes.  The collection includes federal annual statutes going back to 1792 as well as consolidated statutes from 1886.  You can also find historical consolidated and annual statutes for each of the provinces and territories.

9) Finding and Updating Statutes and Regulations in Print

Court rules require official versions of statutes or regulations be presented in court. The online statutes for Ontario, Quebec and the Federal governments have official status. For all the other provinces the official versions are published in print only. The instructions below refer to print statutes for the Federal and Ontario governments but these same steps will be applicable for the other Canadian jurisdictions as well. 

a) Locating Statutes

  • First refer to the electronic sources (listed above); find a citation to the relevant statute and, if necessary, locate to the official print sources.
  • To be thorough, locate the original and all amending statutes which are published separately.

Amending statutes can be located via legislative histories. Government websites which provide legislative histories for each statute, either within the statute or via a link to a "Legislative History" or a "Table of Public Statutes."

Federal Statutes in Print

Current official print versions of federal statutes are found in the most recent Revised Statutes of Canada (RSC 1985 in force on December 12, 1988) and in the annual volumes of the Statutes of Canada published after 1985.

The RSC 1985 is comprised of:

  • Volumes 1-8, containing Chapters A-I to Y4, consolidating statutes up to 31 Dec. 1984.
  • Supplements containing enactments and amendments passed from 1985 to 1988 as well as the consolidated Income Tax Act, and a "Table of the History and Disposal of Acts".
  • Appendices
    • Appendix I   -  Schedule of Acts and parts of the Acts repealed by the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985.
    • Appendix II  -  Constitutional Acts and Documents.
    • Appendix III -  Canadian Bill of Rights
  • Subject Index
  • Table of Concordance: If you know the R.S.C. 1970 number of an existing statute, you can check this table to find out the new chapter number in the revised statute volumes.

Finding a Statute by Title

  • Check the alphabetical "Table of Public Statutes" in the latest annual volume of the Statutes of Canada. The "Table of Public Statutes" also provides a list of changes or amendments to each act.
  • To determine if an amendment is in force, refer to the "coming into force" entries at the end of the list of amendments to an act.

Finding a Statute by Subject

  • Generally, as a result of your preliminary research using secondary sources, you should know exactly which statute you want to consult and why,  when you are at the point in your research when you are ready to consult statutory material.
  • But, if you do not know, you can refer to the English Index (2d) which provides a subject index for RSC 1985. Under each general subject heading are sub­headings which refer to the chapter and section numbers under which that issue can be found.
  • There are no subject indexes to the annual volumes.
  • If you found the act in the index, but cannot find the chapter in the main volumes, the statute referred to in the index was passed after December 1984 and appears in one of the supplements. To find the correct citation:
    • Turn to the Table of Concordance of Chapters in the Index. You will find that the chapter number from the index corresponds to a chapter number in one of the supplements
      Look for the Act in the "Table of Public Statutes" in the back of the most recent annual volume of the Statutes of Canada, or consult the Table of Public Statutes: Table of Acts and Responsible Ministers.

Updating a Federal Statute using the print sources:

Use the Table of Public Statutes in the latest bound volume of the Statutes of Canada or in the Canada Gazette, Part III. Statutes are listed by short title. This cumulative table will refer to amendments of statutes found in RSC 1985, new statutes since 1985, and repeals of any statutes since RS.C. 1985.

  • Make a note of the amendments to the statute that are listed under the name of the statute
  • Look the statute up volume indicated by the Table
  • Look up any relevant amending statutes.

Finding New Federal Legislation

The full-text of all bills introduced during a current session of Parliament and not yet published in the annual statutes can be accessed from the LegisINFO Website. The Senate and the House of Common bills are listed by bill number and indicate their current status (i.e., first reading, second reading, etc.). If the bill has passed third reading, a date of royal assent is also included. LegislNFO also provides a wealth of background material including, major speeches to Parliament, press releases and background documents.

Bills from previous sessions can be found at the Government of Canada Bills webpage.

Ontario Statutes in Print

Print Ontario statutes are found in the most recent Revised Statutes of Ontario, (RSO 1990, in force since January 1, 1992) and in the annual volumes (SO) published since that date. These volumes are sometimes referred to as "sessional volumes."

Finding an Ontario Statute by Title

  • Refer to the Table of Public Statutes in the most recent sessional volume. This table lists all statutes completely or partly in force at the end of the year, with reference to where they can be found on the revised or annual statute volumes.

Finding an Ontario Statue by Subject  

  • Start with the index to the Revised Statutes of Ontario 1990 (RSO 1990) Under each general subject heading are more specific topics with the chapter and section number of the relevant statute. Find the statute in the main work. There are no subject indexes for the annual volumes.

Updating an Ontario Statute using Print Resources

  • Use the Ontario Table of Public Statutes
  • Make a note of the amendments to the statute that are listed under the name of the statute
  • Look the statute up volume indicated by the Table
  • Look up any relevant amending statutes.

Finding New Ontario Legislation

Current bills as well as links to status, in-force, debates and background material are available on the Government of Ontario's Website.

B) Locating Regulations in Print

Unless otherwise specified, a federal regulation comes into force on the day it was registered.  This date is noted both at the top of the text and in the Canada Gazette Part II. A regulation which is exempt from registration comes into force on the day it was made. Regulations that are not included in the CRC are cited as either SOR (Statutory Orders and Regulations or SI (Statutory Instruments) and are filed by date in the Gazette.


  • Federal regulations were last consolidated in the Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1978 (C.RC. 1978). Amendments to these regulations as well as new or amended regulations are published in the Canada Gazette Part II. To have the force of law most regulations made under the authority of a federal statute must be published in the Canada Gazette Part II.

The Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1978 ("CRC") includes:

  • 18 volumes of regulations, ordered alphabetically under the name of the enabling act. Each volume has its own table of contents.
  • Table of Contents, which lists all the regulations, and the page number at which each can be found, as well as a schedule of regulations that have been wholly or partially revoked, have expired or been superseded, or have no general application.
  • Special Issue in two volumes, which re-publishes regulations that appeared in 1978, along with amendments or revocations of regulations found in the consolidation.

Finding Federal Regulations in Print

Canada Gazette, Part II:

  • The Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments, a quarterly issue of the Canada Gazette Part II is the official source for finding federal regulations.
  • It lists all the regulations from 1955 to the present consolidation that are still in force. It contains two tables:
    • Table I: If you know the title of the regulation, Table Irefers you to the statute or authority under which they are listed in Table II.
    • Table II: If you do know the title of the enabling statute, The statutes are listed alphabetically in upper case and the regulations are listed below each act in lower case. Table II provides the regulation number and amendment history for each regulation. For regulations made since the C.R.C. 1978 was published, the citation will be to a location in the Canada Gazette Part II.

Updating a Federal Regulation using Print Resources

  • Consult all the biweekly issues of the Canada Gazette Part II issued after the latest Consolidated Index. At the end of each issue is an index of regulations contained in the issue. Check this index to see if your regulation is listed there.


  • Regulations made under the authority of provincial statutes are published in the official Gazettes of the provinces.
  • Ontario regulations are governed by the Regulations Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. R.21. ands were last consolidated in 1990 in the Revised Regulations of Ontario, 1990. Amendments to these regulations as well as new or amended regulations are published in the Ontario Gazette and are republished annually in the Ontario Regulations with an O. Reg. number. An Ontario regulation comes into effect on the day it is filed, which is noted beneath the title of the regulation.

The Revised Regulations of Ontario, 1990 include:

  • All regulations made before January 1, 1991, ordered alphabetically under their enabling acts
  • Three supplementary volumes that contain regulations made after December 31, 1990 and before the Revised Regulations were proclaimed to be in force (November 16, 1992).

Finding and Updating Ontario Regulations in Print

  • Consult the "Table of Regulations," a semi-annual softcover index of new regulations and amendments published by the Ontario Gazette. Find the enabling act of the regulation and check if there have been any amendments. Go to the regulation indicated.
  • To update, check the indexes of all the soft-cover Ontario Gazettes that have been published since the Table was compiled. Look under the heading, "Publications Under the Regulations Act" to see if your act is listed. If so, check the amendments listed in that issue.

10) Statutory Interpretation/Judicial Consideration


  • Rules of interpretation: Parliamentary sovereignty: the idea that laws passed by our elected politicians must be followed and applied by the courts (unless they contravene the Constitution) requires judges to follow statutes and regulations according to their intent. In some cases, there may be some ambiguity as to that intent and so courts have developed a number of classic "rules" that judges follow when interpreting legislation. These rules include:
    • the ordinary meaning rule (that courts apply the ordinary meaning of the words)
    • the purposive analysis rule (that courts try to infer the purpose of the legislation in interpreting it)
    • the contextual analysis rule (that courts interpret a section of an Act taking into account the context of the entire legislation and legislative scheme)
    • the consequential analysis rule (that courts avoid an interpretation that leads to absurd results).
  • There is no single unifying rule of interpretation, other than the "modern" rule of interpretation:
    • "Today there is only one principle or approach, namely, the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament" (Driedger on the Construction of Statutes. 2nd ed., p.87) as endorsed by the Supreme Court in Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. Re), [1998]1 SCR 27, 1998 CanLII 837 (S.C.C.)
  • These rules allow for a great deal of discretion on the part of judges interpreting a statute.

Judicial Consideration (Noting up)

  • Once you have located a statute, check to see it has been interpreted or commented on by a court. Legislation may be interpreted as meaning something other than it appears to mean or may have even been deemed unconstitutional.
  • Noting up on WestlawNext Canada (paid service - subscription required): To locate cases that have considered the section of statute you are researching, 
  • select the Find and KeyCite by Name tab from the landing page and then select 

    Find and KeyCite a Statute or Regulation by Name. Enter the name and section of your statute and click on the Citing References Tab to find any cases that have considered that section of the statute. Treatment indicators will tell you how the courts have treated the statute, if the courts have found that section of the statute unconstitutional for example.   
  • Noting up on CanLII (free service). First browse or search to locate the appropriate statute.  Click on the Note-up tab at the top of the page and choose whether you will  be noting up the statute as a whole or a section of the statute.  You will then be provided with a list of cases that have considered that statute or section.  CanlII does not provide treatment indicators. 

11) Parliamentary Debates and Committee Reports

Parliamentary debates are useful for researching the history of legislation or legislative intent of particular piece of legislation. Also known as "Hansards" these debates are the transcripts of what is said by the politicians in Parliament or the applicable provincial legislative assembly.

Parliamentary committees are responsible for examining issues, calling witnesses, hearing submissions and making recommendations to Parliament with respect to various aspects of Parliamentary business. The reports provide a record of the comittee's discussion as well as the testimony of the witnesses. They also includes the Commttee's recommendations to parliament. The Committee reports provide background information and the communty context for a particular piece of legislation or issue.

Recent debates and Parliamentary Committee Reports for all jurisdictions (dates vary) are online from the various Government Websites.

Print versions of the debates are available in the library.

Older Print versions of the Committee Reports are available in the library.

Current Print versions are at the Data, Map and Government Documents Library on the 5th floor of the Robarts building.

12) Tracing Legislative History

To understand the steps on how to trace the history of a piece of legislation, see here.