13 An Introduction to Legislative Research

Legislation is the product of the Legislative Branch of the government. It can be thought of as “the rules,” which are then interpreted and applied by the independent Judiciary Branch. “Legislation” is actually a broad term, inclusive of statutes, regulations, and by-laws. As citizens, legislation is the guides or rules in which we live our lives. As legal researchers, legislation can be seen as working in concert with caselaw, with each being shaped and influenced by the other, and neither standing independently.

The most common legislative tasks include:

  • Finding a current act (or regulation): What are the rules right now?
  • Finding how an act read at a certain point/period in time: What were the rules? This matters as very little legislation has retroactive effect (major exception: taxation, commonly retroactive to the beginning of a tax year), and therefore it is important to be able to find what was in force at the time of a precipitating event.
  • Tracing an act/section backwards to see how it has evolved (legislative history): Have the rules around a topic/issue always been the same? How have they shifted over the years, expanding or contracting in response to societal or judicial pressure?
  • Finding an act as it was originally made (as it was published in the Annual Statutes, before amendments, repeals, etc): How were the rules originally expressed, and how much have they changed since then?
  • Determining why an act/section reads as it does (legislative intent): Why are the rules the way they are? Sometimes, the question may be whether the rules were created for problematic purposes, and other times the question is whether knowing why rules were created in a certain form might help us understand and apply them better.

At both the Ontario and Federal levels, there are fantastic websites to help you complete all of these tasks. However, not everything can be (easily) completed online, so it is important to understand what you are seeking, and where it can be found.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Legal Research - A Practical Perspective Copyright © 2022 by Meris Bray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book