17 Federal Legislation: Official Sources

Justice Laws

Federal legislation is available from a multitude of sources, subscription (Westlaw Edge Canada, Lexis+) and free (Canlii). Generally speaking, all of these sources are more or less equally easy to use, and have (again, more or less) identical content. However, for finding an up-to-date, accurate, and official copy of a federal act or regulation, only one source should be top of mind: Justice Laws, as it provides an official source of consolidated federal legislation.

Consolidated Acts

The “home page” for each consolidated act follows a basic structure, that can actually convey quite a lot of information to us as researchers.

The first useful piece of information is, indeed, the first information on the page… The legislation’s citation. It is not in McGill format, but is easy to convert. For example, copy and paste National Horse of Canada Act (S.C. 2002, c. 11), and then add italics and remove superfluous punctuation: National Horse of Canada Act, SC 2002, c 11.

Next, find access to three different versions of the full text of the legislation: HTML, XML, and PDF. Generally speaking, the HTML version is suitable for most research, as it allows us to access the entire document without a larger download (unlike some PDFs), search within a document, and easily copy and paste relevant excerpts into our own writing. The XML (eXtensible Markup Language) version is rarely relevant for our research: “XML is a software- and hardware-independent tool for storing and transporting data.” Therefore, the XML version contains tags (markup) that describe content that can be meaningfully parsed by various applications, but are not terribly useful to humans! The PDF version of the document does not add anything useful for a researcher, but creates a very visually attractive and easily readable document that includes a description of its official status, a currency date and even the Canadian coat of arms/crest. The PDF version is the version of an act that we would want to use to take to court or otherwise prove a piece of federal legislation. Basically, it is official and it looks it!

Why look at the “Full Document” and not use the table of contents? The Table of Contents on the homepage for a piece of legislation, particularly a longer piece of legislation, allows you to jump to particular parts or sections, where a “chunk” of a piece of legislation gets its own page, with “Previous Page” and “Next Page” at the top and bottom of the page. However, these divisions are not always entirely congruent with thematically connected sections of an act, the links to “Next Page” do not convey that the next page is actually a topical continuation of the current page, and therefore, it becomes too easy to read what is on a given page, and not realize that there is additional relevant content just another click away.

Therefore, reading the act via the “Full Document” can help ensure that a given section is viewed in its proper context, not in isolation. The Table of Contents does remain useful to research, however, as starting with a quick skim of it helps us see how the act is constructed/laid out, and mentally situation the section(s) of interest in the larger act. The importance of understanding how an act is constructed as a whole, how various parts have particular application (or lack therefore), and how sections inter-relate to each other, explaining or altering application, cannot be understated. Therefore, as much as using the “Full Document” can assist in this understanding, do not lose what this version of legislation can bring by too rapidly using Ctrl+F to zero in on particular language to the exclusion of surrounding sections! Use Ctrl+F to bring you where you need to be, yes, but then be sure to read up and down from the relevant section to gain the necessary context to understand if what you are reading really does what it seems to do at first glance.

After the links to all these ways to read the legislation, is the currency date of the legislation. In most cases, this is the same date as is found under “Consolidation News” on the Justice Laws homepage, although there is the potential for a particular piece of legislation to get out of step with the general currency date (this could happen if such massive changes to a piece of legislation happened fairly suddenly, such as by proclamation, and a period of time is required to create a new consolidation). Usually legislation is current to within two to three weeks, and is based on the publication of the Canada Gazette, as this is where new regulations (Pt II), new or amending acts (Pt III), and proclamations bringing acts into force (Pt III) are found. The currency date is important generally, but also if you know that, for example, a bill just received Royal Assent and became a new act yesterday, but the currency date is a week ago, that you should not expect to see it on Justice Laws quite yet.

In the same line as the currency date, if the act has been amended, a “last amended on” date will be listed, with the date itself as a link to a list of the last 10 amendments to the act since 2019-01-01. See the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers for a complete list of amendments to acts, or the Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments for a complete list of amendments to regulations. Also on the same line, if the act has been amended, there will be a link to Previous Versions.

Finally, some standard editorial notes about coming into force and shaded provisions are listed, before a “Search Within This Act” (where the same caveats of focusing too tightly also apply), and then a Table of Contents. Essentially every act or regulation, no matter how short, will have a Table of Contents.

Often, we either use the links to the full version of legislation at the top of the page, or the Table of Contents to jump right in to the text. However, in the case of statutes, if we scroll down just a little further on the act’s homepage, there actually is even more, and more useful information presented to us: Firstly, under the heading “Related Information,” we may find links to “Related Provisions” and “Amendments Not In Force.” Related Provisions are “transitional or application provisions or provisions that are in some other way related to the Act or regulation in which they appear, but they are not part of that Act or regulation,” and can help us understand how to read, interpret, or apply the act or regulation in question. Amendments Not in Force can give us a clue as to what changes might be looming, dependant on a future deemed date, or proclamation.

Next comes the chart of the ten most recent amendments since Jan 1, 2019, as previously mentioned. This can give a sense of how often a piece of legislation is “touched” which might be meaningful to the research at hand.

Finally, if we are looking at the homepage for a statute, we may find two lists of regulations: First a list of all the “Regulations made under this Act” and secondly, if relevant, also a list of “Repealed regulations made under this Act.” Locating lists of regulations “under” the act’s table of contents is a good reminder that regulations are literally “made under” the authority of an act!

Consolidated Regulations

As noted above, an act’s homepage will also list all the regulations made under it. The alphabetical list of Consolidated Acts also includes a small yellow icon with the letter “R” where all the regulations belonging to an act can be found.

However, while we usually know what act the regulation we’re looking for belongs to, sometimes we aren’t sure, so it is tremendously useful to know that regulations can also be accessed by title via the Consolidated Regulations page.

Consolidated regulations are laid out more or less identically to consolidated acts, with the same citation information, three full versions, currency, and previous versions, followed by a table of contents, and up to 10 most recent amendments since January 1, 2019. The significant difference between a consolidated act and a consolidated regulation, is that the regulation’s top material includes “Enabling Act” information, with a link to the act that the regulation belongs to.

What’s Not Included

Consolidated legislation omits sections that purely are amendments to other legislation. See the consolidated version of the Accessible Canada Act, SC 2019, c 10, where sections 147-205 have had the text removed and replaced with the note [Amendments], compared to the as-passed version of the same act. This seems like a huge omission at first glance, but it actually isn’t… The consolidated version of the Accessible Canada Act is self-contained, and defined/constrained in what it legislates. The as-passed version needed to amend other acts in order for the entire legislative regime to be coherent.

The text of the amending sections as found in the as-passed version are still part of the current consolidation… Just not in the Accessible Canada Act. For example, section 147 of the Accessible Canada Act amends the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act. The language created by section 147 of the Accessible Canada Act appears in Consolidated Law as part of section 13(1) of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act (and clearly showing our 2019, c 10, s 147 as its predecessor section).

It’s all there, just not all in one place! The consolidation process takes amendments and puts them where they belong. So, don’t be shocked to see big gaps at the end of consolidated material. Read the as-passed/as-made versions if you are curious as to what it contains.

What Does Grey Text Mean?

Current consolidated law​ may contain greyed out text: this is material from the original act that is not yet in force​.

Annual Statutes

Justice Laws also provides annual statutes from 2001 onwards. These are not official, but are regarded as authoritative. If you need an annual statute from before 2001, most law libraries will hold print annual volumes at least back to Confederation, and often pre-Confederation. HeinOnline also provides scans of the print annual Statutes of Canada from pre-Confederation through to current (with the caveat that “current” is usually at least one to two years behind, as the print Annual Statutes always have a lag in production). As well, from 1974 to April 2014 (print), and 1974-current online, Canada Gazette Pt III contains acts of parliament more or less immediately after they receive Royal Assent

What About Annual Regulations?

Annual regulations are not available from Justice Laws. Find these in the Canada Gazette. Part I contains notices and proposed regulations, while Part II contains regulations and other statutory instruments​

Previous Versions

As legal researchers, we often talk about “point in time” or “PIT” legislation: The legislation that controls an offence or precipitating event is that in force at the time of the offence/event. Being that new legislation/amendments rarely have retroactive effect, if the legislation has changed since the offence/event, we need to trace the current legislation backwards to the legislation in force at that “point in time.”

Versions Example

If a new act was originally in force January 1, 2021, amended June 1, 2021, amended again effective October 15, 2021,  and then again on November 12, 2021, a copy of the act would be saved on the day before each amendment came into force, and would then be available on an act’s “Previous Versions” page:

  • 2021-6-1 to 2021-10-14
  • 2021-1-1 to 2021-5-31

The current version of the act does not have a link on the Previous Versions page.

However, as free as we are with that term, “point” is really not entirely accurate, even if Justice Laws refers to it this way! It is not possible to visit an act on Justice Laws and enter a date to see how an act looked on that day. More accurately, the P in PIT should be period in time, as each version of a piece of legislation essentially covers the period in time between amendments/their coming into force.

The way “Previous Versions” work is actually quite simple… From certain dates onwards, essentially a copy of an act or regulation would be saved right before a new amendment/coming into force occurred.

Access these versions on Justice Laws from the top of every act that has been amended since this practice began. Acts which have had no amendments since coming into force, or since PIT data began will not have a Previous Versions link, as in the National Horse of Canada Act, SC 2002, c 11.

All available versions of the legislation will appear in a reverse chronological list, with each version linked in the “From DateX to DateY” format. Extensively amended legislation will also have bolded headings roughly delineating each year (although versions rarely neatly coincide with a calendar year). To use, just select the date range that contains the date of interest to you, to read how the legislation read on that day.

Please note that as all of these versions are created in response to amendments/coming into force of individual acts and regulations, it is not possible to get a snapshot of the entire legislative regime (ie every act and reg) at a given point or period of time.

Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers

As fantastic as Previous Versions are, the reality is that the availability dates are not, in the grand scheme of things, particularly far-reaching. What if we need to figure out how a piece of legislation read on June 17th, 2001, which is before versions began on January 1, 2003? Or, what if we need to figure out when something came into force, and it was before this same date? Essentially, we have to do it the old fashioned way, the way creating an official version of legislation (or even just a readable version!) used to take place, before the days of online consolidations. We have to use the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers. Historically published three times a year, and still published annually in the back of every year’s Statutes of Canada, this table lists all acts in or made since the last revision (RSC 1985), in alphabetical order. Currently, the table is updated continuously, and its currency is reflected on its home page, reflecting the most recent new act, and issue of the Gazette included in it: “Updated to <an act> and Canada Gazette, Part II, <volume and issue> (date).”

The aspect of the table that is of most use to legislative researchers is the “public statutes” part, less so the “responsible ministers.” Organized alphabetically, select the letter matching the first letter of the act of interest. Once to the letter’s page, scroll down or Ctrl+F for the title of the act of interest. Once there, although this material is described as a table, it’s more accurately a list: After the bolded name of the act comes a list of every section of the act that has been “touched” (added, amended, repealed) since the original making of the act/the last revision. Sections that have not been “touched” are not listed. Amended material is listed at the section level, not the subsection level, so it is possible that even an extensively amended section may not have any amendments to a particular subsection. Every amendment is listed, not just the most recent one, or the one since a certain date, and this list can be quite the paragraph for sections that see a lot of amendment. Sections which are newer than the rest of the act have the notation “added” to assist in recognizing this.

After the list of “touched” sections, there is even more, and more useful information. Not every act will have all of these, as they only appear as needed:

  • Coordinating Amendments: Often when a new act is made, or significant amendments are made to an existing act, other acts have to also be amended to keep the legislative regime coherent, and these amendments often have to occur in a certain order/time frame for everything to coordinate. This process is what coordinating amendments ensure.
  • General: these citations often but not always have a note about what they do (“re closing out of affairs,” “related regulations,” “review and report”).
  • Transitional: Similar to coordinating amendments above, these sections speak to the transitional process as a shift is made from one legislative practice to another.
  • CIF: This is usually the largest, and for legislative researchers, the most important part of the material after the list of sections… Because all those citations to amending acts doesn’t say when the changes happened! The CIF (Coming Into Force) material is where the act, if it originates after the last revision, plus all of those amending acts are listed, in ascending chronological order, with information about not only when each section came into force, but how: Deemed, on assent, proclamation with Statutory Instrument (SI) information, etc.

All of this information is not simply interesting in the abstract: Should you need to know how section X read on date Y, before PIT versions were available, this table will give you all the information you need to find the sources to put together what you require.

  • Look at your section in this table. If it does not show up in the list, that means it has not been amended since the act was created/the last revision (whichever is more recent). If it is listed, see what amendments appear. Due to the limited retroactivity of legislation, it is generally safe in most circumstances to limit your research to acts from the annual statutes equal to or older than the date in question (for example, if you are interested in how a section read in 1998, and it was amended in 1992, 1998, and 2000, the first two amendments are more likely to be of potential interest).
  • Next, with these amending acts in mind, look below to find the CIF information for each. Were the relevant sections of each amending act in force by the date of interest? If yes, you’ll need to look at them (as mentioned above, an amendment may apply only to a particular subsection that is not of relevance to you). If no, you can, for the purposes of this research, discount them.
  • After determining which amendments were a) relevant and b) in force on the date of interest, use the base act plus these amendments to “build” an accurate version of the act/section.

Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments

The Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments is, in many ways, the regulation equivalent to the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers.

Hosted on the Canada Gazette’s website, it has two sections: Section 1 organizes regulations by name, and then lists the act under which the regulation was made, which is useful if you don’t already know this information, as Section 2 is organized by authorizing act, and then by regulation, and this is where the amendments are actually listed.

Sections are only listed if they actually have been amended/added/repealed, so not all sections in a regulation are listed. Each SOR/Year-Number (or SI/Year-Number) represents an amendment etc, and multiple amendments to a section are separated by a semi-colon. As regulations come into force on the day they are made (unless otherwise specified, and this is much rarer than in acts), “coming into force” information is not listed. To be sure that a certain change was in force on the date you are interested in, you will need to read the actual amending regulation, in the Canada Gazette Pt II (as “annual” regulations are not available on Justice Laws).

Table of Private Acts

Being that Private Acts only apply to the entity named in them, they are less commonly used in research. However, it is important to know about their existence and how to locate them. This table lists all Private Acts since Confederation (other than divorces: “From 1840 to 1968, many divorces in Canada were granted by private acts of the Parliament of Canada“), with amendments listed as well. However, this is just a list, not the material itself. The Statutes of Canada on Heinonline or in print will be where to find the actual listed material.

What is “Official?”

And why do we care? When we refer to legislation or a legislative source as “official,” this doesn’t just mean “published by the government” (although that is usually also true): Official status relates to the ability to use a version of legislation for evidentiary purposes, ie to prove the text of a piece of legislation in court. Because this is far more significant that simply providing the text for informational purposes, and there was some major early hesitancy about the reliability and trustworthiness of Web sources (this hesitancy is still in existence in some provincial jurisdictions), there was a significant lag between the creation of the Justice Laws website, and it gaining official status… As early as November 2001, consolidated legislation was being made available, with the clear annotation/disclaimer: “These documents are not the official versions“, which also made it clear that “[t]he legislative material on this site has been prepared for convenience of reference only and does not yet have official sanction.” This meant that a researcher at this time could not simply download and print a statute to take to court… They would still have to copy print material and assemble an up to date version of the legislation via amendments (was it possible that the consolidation on Justice Laws was used as the template for all this copying? Yes, yes it was).

It was not until June 1, 2009 that Justice Laws became the official source of federal legislation. However, this status is only applicable to the consolidated statutes and regulations (and the Department of Justice still “assumes no responsibility for the accuracy or reliability of any reproduction derived from the legislative material on this site“). This means that while Justice Laws  is the official source for a handy consolidated version of an act, if you were to need an as-passed or Annual statute, the Annual Statutes page tells you that you will need to “see the Canada Gazette Part III for the official versions of the individual original Acts” (or print annual Statutes of Canada for pre-1998 material). Similarly, official regulations as-made will be found in the Canada Gazette Part II.

Fascinatingly, after all of this early reticence to trust online sources, on April 1, 2014, the Canada Gazette ceased to be published in print, and is now only available in electronic form. This means that if we need to find an official version of a regulation as-made from that date forward, we only have the online source to trust. As well, as new acts are published in Part III before they are published in the print annual Statutes of Canada (there is often a multi-year delay before the production of each annual statute volume), there is always a one to three year period where acts  are only available in an official form online as well. Quite the shift in attitude!


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