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Contemporary Canadian Govt. & Politics: Government Publications

Selected Primary Sources and their Finding Aids: What Was Written -- Government Publications

The Canadian government produces countless documents every year, all of which can be considered potential primary source material for historical research. The government publications featured below are departmental annual reports, budget estimates, reports of Parliamentary committees, Royal Commissions, and Commissions of Inquiry, policy papers, sessional papers, bills, Acts, statutes, regulations, Orders in Council, and court reports.

In Finding and Evaluating Substantive Information, see "Government Information" for tips on using library catalogues, indexes, and Internet search tools to find government publications. Most of the following sources also have their own, specialized finding aids that can help you find and use them effectively. Where not digitized and available through Government of Canada Publications, these key publications should be available in large university libraries across Canada.
Library and Archives Canada maintains the most complete collection of federal government publications. The Collection Search allows you to search multiple databases, the LAC catalogue, and archival collections.

Departmental Annual Reports:
All federal government departments, agencies, boards and commissions were at one time required to publish an annual report. These were often glossy publications including an organizational chart, the department's mandate, goals and objectives, what it accomplished that year, statistics it had gathered, how it spent its budget, and what it planned for the future. Since the early 1990's many departments were no longer required to publish an annual report. Some departments still do, as do Crown corporations, agencies, boards and commissions. Where there is no annual report, some of the information will be in departmental plan and results reports, financial reports, and other documents or sections of the website.

If you do not know which department was responsible for a particular issue in a given year, check some of the sources described in Clarifying: Facts and Figures, e.g. Guide to Canadian Ministries Since Confederation, History of Departments, etc. The Canadian Encyclopedia may also be helpful, or check your library's catalogue entries for a department's annual reports.
 

How to Find Annual Reports:

Most current and recent years are available on the Internet. Go to the official website for the department or agency at the Canada Site and search the department's site, or look under headings such as "Publications" or "Transparency". In recent years the closest option may be the Departmental Plans and Results Reports.

In library catalogues do a keyword search using: "annual report" or "annual review" and as many keywords from the name of the department as required: e.g. fisheries and oceans and (annual report or annual review) or do a keyword search with Canada and fisheries in the author field and (annual report or annual review) in the title field.

NOTE: Most library catalogues will show several records for a department's Annual Reports: Every time the department's name or the title of the report changes, a new record is created. Make sure to check the full record and note any links to previous and later versions if required.

List of Reports and Returns. By Legislative Counsel Office, House of Commons: https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/list-of-reports-and-returns  The list shows the reports and other documents each Ministry has to table in the House of Commons, including Annual Reports, and the discontinuation dates, where applicable. This is published at the beginning of each session.

Treasury Board Secretariat Website. Estimates Part III: Departmental Performance Report, Report on Plans and Priorities, Departmental Results Reports. Ottawa: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Annual. Print: 1983 - . Internet: TBS website: Performance Report: 1995/96 - , Plans & Priorities: 1996/97 - , Departmental Results Reports: 2016/17 - . http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/est-pre/estimE.asp
TBS website has these for each federal department, ministry, board, agency and Crown corporation. These contain budget information. The Report on Plans and Priorities provides the long-term objectives of the department, how they fit with the government's priorities, and how the department plans to achieve them over the next 3 years. The Performance Report and Results Report show whether the department achieved its objectives for the year and document its activities.

Other information that used to be in annual reports can sometimes be published separately, such as multi-year strategic plans, or statistical compilations (e.g. Fisheries and Oceans Canada Strategic Plan 2000 and Immigration Statistics.)

All annual reports published by government bodies are tabled in the House of Commons and therefore recorded in the Journals. Annual reports are assigned a Sessional paper number starting with 8560- .


NOTE: Departmental annual reports generally paint the department and its activities in a good light. Major problems, conflicts, or negative issues may not be mentioned or only very briefly.

Reports of Royal Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry:
These terms are used for major investigations set up by Cabinet to research significant policy problems, gather information from the public, educate the public and the government, and to make recommendations to government. Royal Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry have legal powers, often travel across the country, call witnesses, and hear submissions from all interested parties, a process that can take years.

The reports produced by these large-scale research projects are significant. They are often many volumes long, and contain a huge amount of detail, study, and input from experts and the people most involved in the issue. They can include special studies by the best experts available on the subject and can be the most significant work on a topic for decades. An example is the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, chaired by Pierre Lortie, which produced its final report in 1991 and published twenty-three volumes in its "Research Series".

NOTE: See also Special Topics for examples of provincial commissions and commissions on specific topics.

Finding Commission Reports:

Most university and large public libraries will have the reports from at least the more recent commissions. These can be found using a keyword search if you do not know exact titles or authors (the name of the commission, or Chairperson), or by using the other online search tools described in Finding Government Information.

Recently released reports and a few earlier ones are available on the Internet. Check the official department website for the relevant subject (e.g. Health Canada site for the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, Dept. of Defence for the Somalia Inquiry).

The Privy Council Office website links to several recent commission reports:

Commissions of Inquiryhttps://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/commissions-inquiry.html

You can also use the following lists of commissions to find out if there has been one on your topic:

Canada Year Book. By Statistics Canada. Annual.
Newly appointed federal and provincial Royal Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry are listed in this publication since 1940:

  • 1940–1951
    • each volume lists commissions established and commissions reporting
  • 1952/53–1960
    • only commissions established are listed
  • 1961–
    • lists commissions established and reporting, with title, number of pages, catalogue number and price.

Commissions of Inquiry under the Inquiries Act, Part 1, 1967 to Date. Compiled by Denise Ledoux. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Information and Documentation Branch, 2002. 67 p.

This continues where the checklist by George Henderson leaves off.

Federal Royal Commissions in Canada, 1867–1966: A Checklist. By George Fletcher Henderson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967. 212 p.

Not complete, but this checklist includes 396 royal commissions in chronological order with information on how to locate copies of reports, where available. The index includes subjects, commissioners, secretaries, titles and authors of special studies.

Index to Federal Royal Commissions. Library and Archives Canada. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/royal-commissions-index/Pages/index-federal-royal-commissions.aspx

Library and Archives Canada's catalogue records for approximately 7,000 documents relating to over 200 federal Royal Commissions including the Commission reports, briefs, submissions, evidence, working papers, and others is searchable as a sub-collection within the Aurora Catalogue using the collection code coll90.  Use your keywords for the topic of the royal commission and/or chairperson's name and add "ot=coll90”. Finds only older publications. The standalone index has been discontinued.

Records of Federal Royal Commissions. By James Murray Whalen. Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, Government Archives Division, 1990-94. 2 vols.

This guide describes some of the unpublished records from Royal Commissions held at the Archives.

Royal Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry for the Provinces of Upper Canada, Canada and Ontario, 1792 to 1991: A Checklist of Reports. Compiled and edited by Dawna Petsche-Wark and Catherine Johnson. Toronto: Ontario Legislative Library, 1992. 174 p.

Some reports and other materials from Royal Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry have been individually digitized and may be found by searching online. An example: The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, often referred to as the 'Massey Commission', established in 1949.

NOTE: Royal Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry exist also at the provincial level. See Special Topics: Provincial / Local Government & Politics

Task Force Reports:
Task Forces are informal groups set up by Cabinet, made up of bureaucrats, MPs, academics and other outside experts, or some combination of these, to study an issue and make recommendations to government quickly. They are a less formal information-gathering tool than Royal Commissions, and usually have a more limited focus or scope, but can still commission special research studies, request briefs, and hold public hearings. They can report more quickly and are not as politically neutral as Royal Commissions. Task forces can be headed by a Minister or be directly responsible to a Minister and are not required to make their report public. An example of a task force report: Ethical Conduct in the Public Sector: Report. By the Task Force on Conflict of Interest, Michael Starr and Mitchell Sharp, Chairmen. Ottawa: Government of Canada Task Force on Conflict of Interest, 1984. 276 p.

Finding Task Force Reports:
Use the tools listed in Finding Government Information. Most university libraries will have these reports.
See also Special Topics.

Policy Papers:
Governments publish information on their policies in most of their documents and pronouncements (most covered elsewhere in this guide): The Throne Speech, Budget Speech, news releases, Ministers' speeches, departmental reports and plans, in the Debates, Cabinet decisions, mandate letters to Ministers, etc. The publications referred to as "policy papers" here are those published specifically to explain policy or proposed policy to the public.

Discussion Papers (formerly, and sometimes still called "Green Papers"):
These are official publications issued by government containing proposals for new policy presented with an opportunity for public input before the final policy is drafted. They are like trial balloons to test public reaction and can change significantly.
Example of a green paper: Proposals for a Communications Policy for Canada: A Position Paper of the Government of Canada. By Gerard Pelletier. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1973. 35 p.

White Papers
These are official documents issued by government explaining government policy in the works; where government is committed to the principles of the policy but could still change minor points before it becomes law. The goal is mostly to inform, so that the public is ready for the policy when it takes effect.
Example of a white paper: Securing an Open Society: Canada's National Security Policy. Ottawa: Privy Council Office, 2004. 52 p.

How to Find Policy Papers:
The main difficulty in finding these is that they may not be identified as "policy papers", "green papers", "white papers", or even "discussion papers". None of these terms will necessarily be in the title.

Search library catalogues combining one of these terms and a keyword for your topic or just search for government documents on the topic and read the document's preface or introduction, or news releases about it that might identify it as a policy paper.

Common Subject Headings:

[subject heading for the topic] - government policy (e.g. youth--Canada--government policy)
[topic of] policy -- Canada (e.g. energy policy--Canada)
[subject heading for the topic]--law and legislation (e.g. public records--law and legislation)
Canada -- [type of] policy (e.g. Canada--economic policy)
Current and recent policy papers are very likely to be posted on the sponsoring department's website. Look for publications about the policy issue.

Finding Aids:
Consulting with Canadians. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/government/system/consultations/consultingcanadians.html

This website links to most of the current consultations underway by the federal government and some past ones. Search the site by title of the consultation document, department or agency, or subject. (Note: Includes proposed regulations from the Canada Gazette.)

Green Papers. Ottawa: Library of Parliament. Archived online.

This list of selected federal government green papers provides the citation, sessional paper number and a brief annotation for documents proposing policy. You can browse the list or search by title, subject, year, department, and Minister responsible. Covers 1971 - 2010.

Green Papers/Libres verts, 1971–1991. By Bibliographies and Compilations Section, Library of Parliament. Updated by Bonnie Campbell. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Information and Technical Services Branch, 1991. 70 p.

Federal green papers for the dates indicated are listed with the issuing department and a brief abstract. Index in the back.

White Papers. Ottawa: Library of Parliament. Archived online.

This list of selected federal government white papers provides the citation, sessional paper number and a brief annotation for documents stating government policy. You can browse the list or search by title, subject, year, department, and Minister responsible. Covers 1939-2010.

White Papers/Livres blancs, 1939-1992. By Bibliographies and Compilations Section, Library of Parliament. Updated by Bonnie Campbell. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Information and Technical Services Branch, 1992. 74 p.

Lists white papers published by the federal government for this time period, with the title, issuing department, and a brief abstract. Index in back.

Parliamentary Publications:
Canada's official Parliamentary website is at https://www.parl.ca/ and contains most of the current documents produced by the House of Commons and Senate. Besides the Debates and Committee Minutes listed under What Was Said and bills (under the "Law & Legislation" tab), the other key Parliamentary publications for researchers are:

Journals | Sessional papers | Committee Reports

Journals:

Parliamentary Journals are the official record of all that goes on in the House of Commons and Senate. They contain a brief entry for votes taken, documents tabled, petitions presented, names of Members present, notice of debate and progress of bills, committee amendments to bills, proclamation of Royal Assent, etc. and general information not easily found elsewhere before the Parliamentary website was developed, such as lists of Members and Ministers, committees and subcommittees, committee members and committee reports, Acts passed during the session, etc.

House of Commons Journals. Ottawa: House of Commons Canada. Daily when in session.
Print: 1867 to the present.
Internet: 1867 - 1993 (34th Parliament): https://parl.canadiana.ca/?usrlang=en
              Jan. 1994 (35th Parliament) to the present: https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/house/sitting-58/journals.

Use the journals to help locate parliamentary information. For example, Reports and other documents tabled are listed under the heading "Tabling of Documents" in the section called "Daily Routine of Business". Each document is assigned a sessional paper number. (See "Sessional Papers" below.)

Index to the House of Commons Journals. Ottawa: House of Commons Canada.
Print: 1867 - 1996. Published at the end of each session, in last volume.
Internet: 1867 - 1993 (34th Parliament): https://parl.canadiana.ca/?usrlang=en
              Jan. 1994 (35th Parliament) to the present: https://www.ourcommons.ca/PublicationSearch/en/?PubType=203

Use the Journals Index to find Published and Unpublished Sessional Papers. (See "Sessional Papers" below)
Search by subject, or names of Acts and committees. Note: Subject terms can change over the years; use the cross-references and as many variants as you can think of. Journals keyword search online can be limited by Parliament and session, date range, topic, etc.

Journals of the Senate. Ottawa: Senate of Canada.
Print: 1867 to the present.
Internet: 1867 - 1996 (35th Parliament): https://parl.canadiana.ca/?usrlang=en
               Feb. 1996 (35th Parliament) to the present: https://sencanada.ca/en/in-the-chamber/journals

Equivalent to the House Journals.

Index to the Senate Journals. Ottawa: Senate of Canada.
Print: 1867 - 1996. Published at the end of each session in last volume until 2000.
Internet: 1867 - 1996 (35th Parliament): https://parl.canadiana.ca/?usrlang=en
               Feb. 1996 (35th Parliament) to the present: https://sencanada.ca/en/search

Journals | Sessional papers | Committee Reports

Sessional Papers:
The term "Sessional Papers" refers to all documents tabled in the House of Commons or filed with the Clerk of the House (other than bills). These are numbered as sessional papers and until the 1920's, were published together in bound volumes. They are no longer separately published, but are still numbered and at times referred to by that number.

  • "Published" Sessional Papers: Are all those printed for distribution outside of the House, ie. for public use. (These include annual reports of departments, task force and Royal Commission reports, responses to committee reports and to petitions, etc.)
  • "Unpublished" Sessional Papers: Are one of a kind documents, not printed for distribution or public use. (These include letters, written answers to difficult or contentious questions asked in Question Period and tabled for later response, background papers for debates and special studies for Parliament.) Indicated by "n.p." in indexes.


Finding Aids:

Library of Parliament Catalogue. https://lop.parl.ca/sites/PublicWebsite/default/en_CA/Catalogue

Advanced Search can be limited to Sessional Papers. Includes many digitized documents.

Index to the House of Commons Journals. Ottawa: House of Commons Canada.
Print: 1867 - 1996. Published at the end of each session, in last volume.
Internet: 1867 - 1993 (34th Parliament): https://parl.canadiana.ca/?usrlang=en
              Jan. 1994 (35th Parliament) to the present: https://www.ourcommons.ca/PublicationSearch/en/?PubType=203

Use the Journals Index to locate references to sessional papers, whether "printed" or not. Reports and other documents tabled are listed in the Journals under the heading "Tabling of Documents" in the section called "Daily Routine of Business". The Index may list them under the name of the committee or department responsible, the subject matter, or under "Reports, Orders in Council and other Documents Laid on the Table".

Each document is assigned a sessional paper number which reflects the Parliament, session and type of document (e.g. 8545-373-25-04 is a government response to a petition in the 37th Parliament, 3rd session. The last numbers ensure each document number is unique.)

Selected Sessional paper number codes:
8560: Annual Reports
8561: Access to Information Reports
8562: Strategic Plans
8555: Government Response to Questions
8545: Government Response to Petitions
8540: Orders in Council
8527: Miscellaneous
8520: Budget Papers
8512: Committee Reports

Locate Sessional papers depending on the type of document they are. Most (e.g. departmental annual reports, committee reports, etc.) will likely be easy to find at a depository library using the title and author. Others can be consulted at the Library of Parliament or at Library and Archives Canada.

Collection Search. Library and Archives Canada. http://search-recherche.collectionscanada.ca/archives/search.jsp?Language=eng

Enter "Sessional Papers" in the Library and Archives Canada "Collection Search" search engine to see descriptions of some of the sessional paper collections they maintain.

Unpublished Sessional Papers.
Several years of unpublished sessional papers have been periodically microfilmed and made available for sale. Larger research libraries may have copies. Search for these by "Unpublished sessional papers" as the title. Copies can also be consulted at the Library of Parliament and Library and Archives Canada. The sessional paper number will be helpful in retrieving them.

Journals | Sessional papers | Committee Reports

Committee Reports:
After meeting to study an issue, Parliamentary committees are usually required to produce a report containing their findings. These reports can be valuable sources of information representing the latest research on a current topic. Committees frequently call on experts and others with experience and knowledge in the subject, often requesting and receiving input from various and opposing viewpoints or sides of the issue. Written briefs submitted by an individual, group, or government body become the committee's property and will be published in the Committee Evidence unless there are confidentiality concerns. Committees try to produce balanced, objective reports with realistic recommendations for government.

Finding Committee Reports:

Print:
Committee reports are usually printed as part of the numbered issues of the Committee's Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence. More substantial or important ones may be published as a separate report with a special cover and distinctive title. Full depository libraries should have them in either case. Search for the title of the report in the library catalogue or by keyword using "committee", "report" and other relevant keywords. If the report is not found, search for the committee's Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence. If you know the date, they should be easy to find. If you do not know the details, search the Journals Index.

Internet:
At the Parliamentary Internet site (https://parl.ca/), from the House of Commons Committees page https://www.ourcommons.ca/Committees/en/Home select a committee to see the reports under the "Work" tab. The Senate Committees page https://sencanada.ca/en/Committees/ includes a link to reports. There is also a separate listing called: "Substantive Committee Reports" on ParlInfo: https://lop.parl.ca/sites/ParlInfo/default/en_CA/Federal/committeeReports . This is a compilation of Senate and House of Commons reports on special or major topics (i.e. not administrative or reports on bills) from the first session to the present, including interim and final reports of Special Committees.

Journals of the House of Commons and Senate:
See "Journals" above.
Reports may be listed under the name of the committee or under the word "Committees".

Select Committees of the Assemblies of the Provinces of Upper Canada, Canada and Ontario, 1792 to 1991: A Checklist of Reports. Compiled and edited by Richard Sage and Aileen Weir. Toronto: Ontario Legislative Library, 1992. 431 p.

TIP: If you are having difficulty using Parliamentary documents, ask for assistance from your Government Documents Reference Librarian. If there is no librarian available to assist you, contact the Parliament of Canada Information Service at info@parl.gc.ca or (from within Canada): 1-866-599-4999.

Law and Legislation:
Primary sources of law include legislation (Acts, regulations and Orders in Council) and case law (court decisions). The sources and finding aids listed here should be widely available in Canadian libraries and on the Internet. Information on citing legal sources is given in Citing Sources Used.

Top | Sources for Understanding | Legal Research Guides | Primary Sources

Sources for Understanding the Legislative Process:
The major primary sources for law and legislation from the federal government (Parliament and the main federal courts) are described here. (For law and legislation from provincial, regional and municipal jurisdictions see Special Topics: Provincial and Local Government & Politics.) To gain a basic understanding of these primary sources, you should understand something of the legislative process. The following guides provide clear explanations:

Canada's System of Justice. Ottawa: Dept. of Justice. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/

A brief guide explaining what law is, how it is made (by government) and how it is applied (in the courts).

Guide to Making Federal Acts and Regulations. 2nd ed. Ottawa: Government of Canada Privy Council Office, 2001. 206 p. https://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/publications/guide-making-federal-acts-regulations.html

Describes in detail the regulatory process, principles, and policies.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice. 3rd edition, 2017. https://www.ourcommons.ca/About/ProcedureAndPractice3rdEdition/Index-e.html

A detailed look at the procedures and practices of the House of Commons and the role of Members, and how they have evolved.

Our Procedure. House of Commons Table Research Branch. https://www.ourcommons.ca/About/OurProcedure/Index-e.htm

A collection of articles and fact sheets describe procedures in the House of Commons and its committees.

Procedural Reference Material. https://www.ourcommons.ca/About/ProceduralReferences/Index-e.html

House of Commons website collection includes the above guides and more, including glossary of parliamentary procedure, annotated standing orders, etc.

Senate Procedural References. https://sencanada.ca/en/about/procedural-references/

Senate website collection includes Senate Procedure in Practice, Rules of the Senate, etc.

User's Guide to House of Commons Publications. 2nd ed. Ottawa: House of Commons Canada, 1993. 27 p.

This brief guide explains key House of Commons publications like Order Papers, Journals, Votes & Proceedings, Committee Proceedings and Evidence, etc.

Top | Sources for Understanding | Legal Research Guides | Primary Sources

Legal Research Guides:
Legal research is a field of its own and has specialized reference tools not often found outside of law libraries, and which are usually only commercially available at a high cost. Legal research also has some of its own procedures and conventions. For more detailed information on legal research and commercial legal reference sources consult more specialized legal research guides such as the following:

Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide. Edited by legal researchers Melanie R Bueckert, André Clair, Maryvon Côté, Yasmin Khan and Mandy Ostick, updating, and based on Catherine Best's Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research. https://canlii.ca/t/2bm3

Legal Research and Writing. 4th ed. By Ted Tjaden. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2016. 486 p.

Legal Research Handbook. 5th ed. By Douglass MacEllven. Markham, ON: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2003. 506 p.

Legal Research: Step by Step. 5th ed. By Arlene Blatt and JoAnn Kurtz. Toronto: Emond Publishing, 2020. 344 p.

Updating Statutes and Regulations for all Canadian Jurisdictions. 4th ed. By Mary Jane T. Sinclair. Scarborough, ON: Carswell, 1995. 63 p.

Top | Sources for Understanding | Legal Research Guides | Primary Sources

Law & Legislation — Primary Sources:

There are four key primary sources of legislation:

Back to the Top | Back to Primary Sources | Acts | Bills | Regulations | Orders in Council

Acts:
An Act is a law. It is a bill that has passed three readings in the House of Commons and the Senate, and has received Royal Assent. The bill number is then dropped and it is renumbered as a chapter in the session's volume of accumulated Acts, called statutes.

NOTE: Always check the "coming into force" date (CIF) to make sure the Act has been proclaimed in force in its entirety. Acts, or sections of an Act, can come into force on a date given at the end of the Act, or on "proclamation". Proclamation dates are printed in Canada Gazette, Part III.
As soon as possible after they receive Royal Assent, Acts are printed in the official news bulletin of the Canadian government:

Canada Gazette, Part III. Ottawa: Queen's Printer. Irregular.
Print: 1841 to the present.
Internet: 1841 - 1997: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/archives-eng.html#a2     
1998 to the present: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/publications-eng.html#a3
See the Table of Contents for a listing of the Acts in each issue.

All Acts which have received Royal Assent in the year are printed together in the annual volumes called:
Statutes of Canada (S.C.), Annual Statutes of Canada or Acts of the Parliament of Canada. Ottawa: Queen's Printer.
Print: 1867 to the present.
Internet: 2001 to the present: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/AnnualStatutes/index.html

NOTE: Until 1984 the Statutes of Canada were only printed at the end of the session, which could span several years.

All previous Acts still in force were consolidated and reprinted together every 15-20 years incorporating all changes made since the last consolidation into what is called: Revised Statutes of Canada. (R.S.C.) Last R.S.C. printed: 1985, includes 8 volumes and 4 supplements. The supplements include enactments and amendments passed in 1985-1988: Supp. 1: 1985, Supp. 2: 1986, Supp. 3: 1987, Supp. 4: 1988.
Previous revisions since 1945: 1952 and 1970.

The R.S.C. 1985 includes an excellent subject index and a Table of Concordance. (The names of Acts can change at revision; use the table of concordance to link the titles.)

The Revised Statutes have since then been replaced by:
Consolidated Acts and Regulations of Canada. Dept. of Justice Canada. Updated biweekly. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/

This includes the Acts in the latest Revised Statutes and all Acts of public general application enacted since then.


Finding Aids for Acts:

CanLII (Canadian Legal Research Institute). https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/

Searchable database includes Annual Statutes: 2001 to present; Consolidated Statutes 2003 to present; Regulations 2007 to present. Updated weekly from the Justice Laws Website.

Justice Laws Website. Dept. of Justice. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/

The official site for Canada's laws. The Consolidated Statutes can be searched by by title, chapter or regulation number, or by keyword at this official site for Canada's laws.

Table of Private Acts (1867 to December 31, 2019). Dept. of Justice. Updated every 3 years. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/TablePrivateActs/index.html

Private Acts are enacted for the benefit of individuals or companies. (Not to be confused with Private Members' Bills which concern public policy.) This is an index to all private Acts of Canada that have been enacted since 1867, except for those dealing with divorces. You can search by keyword or browse the lists of Acts grouped under 12 subject categories.

Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers (1867 to December 2020). Ottawa: Dept. of Justice.
Print: Included in Canada Gazette Part III for many years; also printed in annual bound volumes of the Statutes of Canada
Internet: Updated 2-3 times a year. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/TablePublicStatutes/index.html

Use for updating Acts. This publication shows all the Chapters of the latest Revised Statutes of Canada, the more recent public Acts, and all the amendments made, repealed acts, years of enactment, and responsible Ministers from 1907 to within a few months of the present. The Internet version is searchable by keyword or you can find Acts listed alphabetically by title.

See also Special Topics: Provincial / Local Government & Politics for provincial and municipal laws and legislation.

Back to the Top | Back to Primary Sources | Acts | Bills | Regulations | Orders in Council

Bills:
Bills are legislation in draft form; proposed legislation making its way through the current session of Parliament. After a bill has passed three readings in the House of Commons and Senate, and received Royal Assent, it becomes an Act, loses its bill number and is renumbered as a chapter of the Statutes.

(Current bills are discussed in detail under What's Happening Now: Government - Proposed Legislation)

Bills from past sessions:

If a bill "died on the Order paper" it means it did not pass in the session in which it was introduced. These bills may be reintroduced in subsequent sessions (with a new number), or never be seen again. They can be of interest to researchers to see what was proposed but not accepted, or else to trace the early stages of legislation that may have taken several sessions and many revisions before becoming law.

How to find bills that did not pass:
Use the Status of Business or Progress of Legislation publications described here for the date of the last sitting before prorogation or dissolution of Parliament. Any bills that did not receive Royal Assent by then did not pass into law.

Bills introduced in the House of Commons:
Status of House Business at Prorogation. Or Status of House Business at Dissolution/As of the Time of Adjournment, Status of Bills. (Title varies). Ottawa: House of Commons. Irregular.
Print: 1985 - .
Internet:
Status of House Business. 1994 (35th Parliament) to the present. https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/house/status-business. Each session's edition has an index and can be searched as a pdf.

Bills introduced in the Senate:
Progress of Legislation. Or Status of Legislation (Title varies). 1994 (35th Parliament) to the present. https://sencanada.ca/en/in-the-chamber/progress/43-2.

LEGISinfo. https://www.parl.ca/LegisInfo/Home.aspx?Language=E&ParliamentSession=43-2 A useful research tool by the House, Senate, and Library of Parliament. Provides details on the status of bills from the 37th Parliament, 2002 on, with additional information including votes, major speeches, text of the bills, etc.

NOTE: If no direct link is given to the text of the bill online, select "Bills" from the main menu to see a list of bills, with links to the text at First Reading, at the committee stage, etc. Not all libraries keep the printed copies of bills that did not get passed. If yours does not, and your bill pre-dates the bills available on the Internet, ask for an interlibrary loan of the bill as printed at first reading, etc., or contact the Library of Parliament.

Back to the Top | Back to Primary Sources | Acts | Bills | Regulations | Orders in Council

Regulations:
Regulations are a form of law called "subordinate legislation". They are detailed rules drafted by government bureaucrats or government bodies. The rules prescribe the detail not put in the Act itself. They can be very technical, or set out the penalties for not following the law. They are considered subordinate legislation and do not get debated. Although a regulation may not make a significant change to a law, all regulations together that can apply to a law can make a big difference on the law's effect. Not all regulations need be published.

NOTE: Unless otherwise stated, federal regulations come into force on their registration date. If listed as "exempt from registration", they are in force from the day they are made.

TIP: Regulations are cited as SOR (Statutory Orders and Regulations), and after 1972 a new class of federal regulations called Statutory Instruments came into being (Cited as SI).

For more information about regulations see:

Guide to Making Federal Acts and Regulations. Privy Council Office and Dept. of Justice. 2nd ed. 2001. https://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/publications/guide-making-federal-acts-regulations.html

Cabinet Directive on Regulation and other details from Treasury Board Secretariat. https://www.canada.ca/en/government/system/laws/developing-improving-federal-regulations.html

Below are the major sources for finding Regulations starting with "pre-publication" or draft regulations, to "consolidated" regulations which combine all regulations still in force and previous consolidations for historical research:

Canada Gazette Part I. Ottawa: Queen's Printer. Weekly (and occasional "Extras").
Print: 1867 to the present.
Internet: 1841-1997: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/archives-eng.html 
1998 to the present: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/publications-eng.html#a1

Draft regulations are "pre-published" every Saturday in Part I of the Gazette to allow interested parties to examine them and comment before they become official.

Canada Gazette Part II. Ottawa: Queen's Printer. Bi-weekly.
Print: 1867 to the present.
Internet: 1841-1997: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/archives-eng.html 
1998 to the present: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/publications-eng.html#a2

This Part of the Gazette comes out every second Wednesday and since 1947 contains all new regulations enacted as well as orders in council, orders and proclamations.

Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments. Contained in Canada Gazette Part II. Quarterly. (See above.) Latest edition also available on the Dept. of Justice website: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/IndexStatutoryInstruments/

Lists all regulations and statutory instruments published in the Canada Gazette Part II since 1955 that are still in force. Regulations listed alphabetically by title and by title of enabling Act, with regulation number, registration date and reference to the Canada Gazette issue in which to find the full text of the regulation.

Consolidated Acts and Regulations of Canada. Dept. of Justice Canada. Updated biweekly. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/

Includes all regulations from the last consolidation in 1978 and all regulations of public general application enacted since then. You can search the Consolidated Regulations separately or together with the Consolidated Acts. Search by title, keyword in title or full text.

Consolidated Regulations of Canada. (CRC) Ottawa: Queen's Printer, irregular. Since 1945 there have been two consolidations: 1955 and 1978. Updated on Justice Laws Website: https://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/

The 1978 consolidation was published in 19 volumes. The last volume is a Table of contents and schedule. Regulations are printed in alphabetical order by enabling Act.

Back to the Top | Back to Primary Sources | Acts | Bills | Regulations | Orders in Council

Orders in Council:

An Order in Council (OIC) is a short statement describing a decision made by the executive branch of government (Governor in Council, or Cabinet). For example, when a Cabinet decision causes a change to a government regulation, an Order in Council is required before the decision can be implemented. OICs are required when regulations are amended, repealed or new ones created, for appointments to agencies, boards and commissions and are a common way for bills to come into force.

For more information on Orders in Council see the Guide to Making Federal Acts and Regulations. Privy Council Office and Dept. of Justice. 2nd ed. 2001. https://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/publications/guide-making-federal-acts-regulations.html

Orders in Council Database. Privy Council Office.
https://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/orders-in-council.html
Approved Orders in Council searchable from 1990 to the present.
Full text: Nov. 1, 2002 to the present.

This is the official site for OICs. New Orders in Council are available here in  most cases within three days of approval by the Governor General. The database is searchable by keyword in the title of the related Act or department, Act's chapter number or bill number, date, etc. You can also limit to only OICs that bring Acts into force. Information displayed includes registration number (to find the OIC in the Canada Gazette Part II), authority, sponsoring department, and a brief description of the OIC. Click on "Attachments" for the full text where available.

Tip: For OICs indexed here but not available in full text, write down the date and registration number of the OIC in order to be able to find it in the Gazette Part II.

Canada Gazette Part II. Ottawa: Queen's Printer. Bi-weekly.
Print: 1867 to the present.
Internet: 1841-1997: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/archives-eng.html 
1998 to the present: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/publications-eng.html#a2

Part II of the Gazette comes out every second Wednesday and since 1947 contains the new orders in council as well as new regulations, and proclamations. For the years before 1998 (ie. print volumes): See the index at the end of the relevant year and look up the OIC by the Registration number. All full depository libraries should have these.

Court Reports:
Canada's judicial branch, the federal courts, are responsible for settling disputes according to law, including disputes about how government functions. Under the Constitution they are independent of the executive and legislative branches of government and as such are an integral part of Canada's democratic system of government.

The three main federal courts are the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal. The major documents of interest to researchers from these courts are court reports which provide the text of major decisions or judgments. Some of these are available in large university libraries where not on the Internet:

CanLII (Canadian Legal Information Institute). https//canlii.org/
This website provides access to court judgments from all Canadian courts and many national tribunals. It has Supreme Court decisions from 1877 to present, and decisions from the Federal Courts from 1997 to the present.

Federal Court Decisions.

The Federal Court of Canada split into two separate courts in July 2003: The Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal. The Federal Court is Canada's national trial court. It deals with claims against the federal government, civil suits in federally-regulated areas and interprovincial or federal-provincial disputes. The Federal Court of Appeal hears appeals from the administration of federal government programs such as Employment Insurance, disability insurance, old age security, CPP and war veterans allowance, and appeals from federal boards, commissions and tribunals and disputes on international issues such as copyright, trade and immigration.

Print:
Published by the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. Monthly. (6-month lag time) Federal Court reports have changed their name over the years:

  • 1923 –1969: Canada Law Reports: Exchequer Court of Canada
  • 1970: Canada Exchequer Court Reports
  • 1971 – : Canada Federal Court Reports

Internet:
Decisions from each court can be searched together or separately at each site.  "Advanced Search" allows searching by keyword in judgment text, appellants names, year, etc. Decisions can also be browsed by date, case name, and neutral citation.

Federal Court Decisions. 1990 to the present.
https://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fc-cf/en/nav.do

Federal Court of Appeal Decisions. 1989 to the present.
https://www.fca-caf.gc.ca/fca-caf_eng.html

Finding Aids:

Canada Federal Court Reports Consolidated Index. Ottawa: Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. 1971 to the present. Every 3-5 years.

Each volume covers 3-5 years.

Supreme Court of Canada Decisions.

The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in Canada. It is the final general court of appeal hearing appeals of national significance from all other courts in all areas of law. It has also been called upon to consider questions of interpretation of the Constitution, federal and provincial legislation and the powers of Parliament.

Print:
Published by the Supreme Court of Canada. Irregular. After 1990, published in 3 or 4 volumes per year, each in several parts containing index and table of cases cited. Supreme Court reports have changed their name over the years:

  • 1923-1969: Canada Law Reports: Supreme Court of Canada
  • 1970-2013: Canada Supreme Court Reports

Internet:
Supreme Court Judgements. Supreme Court of Canada site hosted by Lexum . Updated daily. https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/nav_date.do

Search tips: Use the Advanced Search option to search by keyword, date, case name, judge, citation, etc.

Finding Aid:

Index to the Supreme Court of Canada Reports, 1876-1950. By John Southall and Gerald D. Sanagan. Toronto: Butterworth, 1952. 2 vols. 900 p.

See Citing Sources for tips on citing these legal sources.