Researching Legislation

AuthorTed Tjaden
Legislative materials, in the form of statutes, regul ations, and statutory
instruments, are an important source of law. While some citizens may
not realize the power of judge-made case law to a ffect their rights, most
citizens do real ize that statutes and regulations have the power to af-
fect them legally. Created by or through elected politicians, legislat ion
consists of written rules that govern or prescribe the conduct of the
citizens who elected the government off‌icials. Despite the importance
of legislation to our legal system and to legal rese arch, few people enjoy
conducting legislative research.
There are several reasons why legi slative research can be a challenge:
Until recent ly, legislation was mired in nineteenth-century print tech-
nology, replete with publishing delays, p oor consolidation of amended
provisions, and awkward “tables” for updating ch anges to legislative
The legislative proces s is still somewhat mysterious to most people,
involving a sense of back-room lobbying and various tech nical legis-
lative rules, such as the need for bill s to progress through three read-
ings before becoming law.
• Leg islation involves a fairly obscure vocabular y and literature unfami l-
iar to the uninit iated, including such concepts or terms as prorogation,
Royal Assent, proclam ations, and orders in council (these terms are
explained below in thi s chapter).
Fortunately, legislators are improving access to legi slation on their web-
sites. Although some governments have been slow to make thei r online
versions of legislation off‌icial, the federal,1 Onta rio,2 New Brunswick,3
Nova Scotia,4 and Québec5 govern ments have done so, and it is reason-
able to assume that the other Can adian jurisd ictions will do so in the
near future. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) (www. is al so an excellent central “clearing house” for recent fed-
eral, provincial, and ter ritorial legislation.
Although the emphasis in this chapter will be on usi ng online re-
sources for legislative research, t here will also be a brief review of print
resources because someti mes there is no choice but to use print re-
sources. Since online legislative databases tend to emphasize current
content, it may still be necessary when conducting historical legisla-
tive research to use pr int material. In addition, since not all Ca nadian
provincial jurisdictions have moved as quickly in mak ing the online
versions of their legislation off‌icial, it may be necessary to obta in print
copies of legislation when off‌icial copies are needed for court. Lear n-
ing how to conduct legislative research in print can also provide valu-
able context for understanding the legislative proce ss and what is being
viewed onl ine.
What, then, is the best way to learn how to research legislation?
This chapter proposes that most legi slative research can be successful-
ly, and somewhat enjoyably, undertaken using the following f‌ive-step
Legislative Research Checklist:
Legislative Research Checklist
Step 1: Identify which level of government has jurisdiction over the
subject matter of your research.
1 By s 31(1) of the Legislation Rev ision and Consolidation Act, R SC 1985, c S-20, all
consolidated Act s and regulations on the Just ice Laws website are “off‌icial,” as
of 1 June 2009.
2 Section 35(1)(b) of the Legislation Act, 2006, SO 2006, c 21, Schedule F, made
legislation on e-L aws ( off‌icia l, effective 30 November 2008.
3 Queen’s Printer Act, R SNB 2011, c 214.
4 Eviden ce Act, RSNS 1989, c 154, s 3.
5 An Act respecting the Compilat ion of Québec Laws and Regulati ons, SQ 2009, c 40,
makes Québe c statutes published in print a nd online by Publications du Q uébec
off‌icial, as of 1 Ja nuary 2010, with Québec regulation s made off‌icial as of 12 July
2012 .

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