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Legal Research


Federal or Provincial?

The Canadian constitution divides areas of activity between the federal and provincial government. Some of these areas are exclusive - for example, the postal service is a federal area of activity, while education is a provincial matter. Some areas overlap, so that both levels of government may make laws and policies. The environment is an example of an area of dual jurisdiction. 

Statutes & Regulations

Legislation includes statutes (also called acts) that are passed by either the federal parliament or a provincial legislature, and regulations, sometimes called secondary or delegated legislation. Regulations are made under the authority of a 'parent' act, and typically deal with specific matters arising from the parent act. There may be several sets of regulations under one act. Both statutes and regulations can be amended and/or repealed. In general, legislation passed during a calendar year is published in that year's statute volume, with the acts being numbered sequentially 1, 2, 3, etc. as chapters. Typically the public statutes are first, and any private statutes appear later in the volume.

Public or Private?

Laws or statutes (as well as bills) are categorized as "public" if the law is a law that applies to everyone, for example, the Criminal Code. These are laws "of general application". Laws can also be "private", meaning they apply to a specific person, place, or corporation. For example, city charters are often provincial statutes, but only apply to the specific city. In some provinces, a hospital or a university may have its own piece of legislation. Sometimes if you cannot find an act that you know exists, it may be because it is a "private" act so you need to look in a slightly different place.