15 Legislation: Terms and Definitions


While there are some very technical differences between a statute and an act, for legal research and understanding purposes, “act” and “statute” can be treated as synonyms. Statutes/act are pieces of legislation passed by the legislature of the jurisdiction in question.

Annual Law

Refers to legislation as it was passed (acts) or made (regulations). Annual statutes appear in the annual statute volumes, while regulations appear in the relevant Gazette for the jurisdiction in question (and for both, their online equivalents and/or a central legislation website for each jurisdiction). You can recognize annual statutes as their citations will start with S and an abbreviation for the jurisdiction, followed by the year: SC 1999 (Statutes of Canada 1999) or SO 1999 (Statutes of Ontario 1999). A regulation’s citation will start with SOR or SI (Federal), or O Reg (Ontario), followed by the regulation number and year (SOR/2000-111, O Reg 426/00). This legislation can create a new act/regulation or acts/regulations, or can amend existing legislation. Commonly, both will happen: A new act will be created, and there will be consequential amendments to other, existing legislation, to allow the new act to fit into the legislative regime.


Bills can be thought of as proto-acts… Every act starts out as a bill before its relevant legislative body. However, not all bills are successful. As discussed elsewhere , depending on the practices of the legislative body, some or even the majority of bills introduced do not make it through the legislative process to receive Royal Assent , and transform into acts. Therefore, as a researcher, do not interpret the introduction of a bill to necessarily imply the looming arrival of a new act! A note on bill numbering: While every legislative body has its own rules around what numbers can be applied to what type of bills and what prefixes may be added to a number, one thing is consistent: Bill numbers are assigned by parliamentary session. Every session, long or short, starts with a new “Bill 1” (however that expressed in that body). Therefore, simply knowing that a legislative change was made by “Bill 5” is not helpful… Just about every session has a “Bill 5!” The bill number must be coupled with a parliament and session (or at least a year) in order to be meaningful.


Legislation produced by a municipal body, only in effect in the relevant municipality. Scope of bylaws is controlled by the Municipal Act, 2001, SO 2001, c 25 in Ontario.


Like a revision, consolidated law “folds in” all the amendments since the legislation was made/revised. However, unlike the comprehensive scope of a revision, the consolidation process occurs on an act by act (or regulation by regulation) basis, whenever an amendment comes into force, rather than at a certain point in time. Also unlike a revision, the folding in of amendments does not result in a renumbering of an act, or re-ordering of all the acts. This lack of renumbering can result in many “point sections” (10.1, 10.2, 10.3 etc) as new sections are crammed into a topically relevant part of an existing act/regulation, or huge gaps, where sections have been repealed. As more time passes without a revision to provide a fresh slate for legislative numbering, these gaps and point sections are beginning to make reading legislation somewhat of a challenge, and there has been some tentative discussion at some legislative bodies about performing one off revisions on acts that are particularly impacted by extensive amendment. For now, this has not been adopted as a formal policy for Federal or Ontario legislation, and does not appear to be occurring. Both Justice Laws and E-laws are examples of continuing consolidations, providing access to up-to-date legislation on an on-going basis.


Hansard or “the debates” are verbatim transcripts of discussions in legislative bodies. The “Hansard” name originates in the UK, as the Hansard family was the first permitted to publish official transcripts of the discussions in the House of Commons and House of Lords. This reference to debates is unique to Commonwealth countries, so do not expect to see “Hansard,” by that name, from the United States. These transcripts are intended to capture, word for word, all the speakers in a legislative body (older Hansard tends to be less explicitly verbatim). This can range from discussion of issues of the day, to detailed debate about bills before the legislative body. These debates about bills are often what we use as legal researchers, as bills are debated in legislative bodies as part of the process of becoming statutes. Reading the debates around a bill can help you determine the legislative intent behind an act or amendment, to further understand how it may or may not be applied, or what truly it was meant to accomplish.

“Incorporated by Reference”

Sometimes legislators do not try to reinvent the wheel, especially in regards to highly technical or subject-specific guidelines, and instead incorporate these documents into legislation (often regulations). While in context of a specific topic, the Government of Canada has a good description of what this can mean, and how it can work. A classic example of this is the Ontario Electrical Safety Code, O Reg 164/99: Rather than the government having to develop a detailed safety code, Ontario has incorporated the code developed by the “Canadian Standards Association entitled ‘Canadian Electrical Code Part I, C22.1:21,’” by reference.

Omnibus Legislation

Primarily acts/statutes. In the past, it was common to see amending acts with titles such as the “Actname Amendment Act” or “An Act to Amend the ActName Act,” such as the Highway Traffic Amendment Act (Ignition Interlock Device), 2000, SO 2000, c 35. New acts also were primarily created by standalone legislation, such as the Electronic Commerce Act, 2000, SO 2000, c 17. However, in the last twenty years, the trend in Ontario has moved to omnibus legislation, where one act in the Annual Statutes either amends potentially dozens of existing acts (as in the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018, SO 2018, c 17, which amends more than 45 acts) or creates multiple new acts (as in the Safer Ontario Act, 2018, SO 2018, c 3, which creates eight new acts). Usually these omnibus acts contain multiple schedules, each amending or creating a different act. Legislative research on these acts can be quite complicated and sometimes frustrating, as the bulk of material contained in them can often translate into very shallow discussion of any given aspect during the legislative process.

Parliament and Session

Parliament and session numbers are the identifier by which all legislative materials are organized… Debates, bills, essentially everything except annual statutes (and historically, even these). You can think of a parliament as the time between elections (roughly), or the period in which a particular government is in power. Each parliament can be further divided into sessions, each beginning with a Speech from the Throne and ending with prorogation. Every parliament has a “1st Session” but being that there is no defined or required length for a session, it is not uncommon for there to be a one to one relationship between parliament and session. However, this is not consistent, and many parliaments are split into multiple sessions. All bills “die on the order paper” at prorogation. It’s also important to be aware of the relationship or lack thereof between parliaments/sessions and years. Even within a parliament, one session can span multiple years, or equally possibly, one year can contain multiple sessions.

Predecessor Sections

Predecessor sections are the “breadcrumb trail” of citations at the end of a legislative section or subsection, particularly in a continuing consolidation or revision. For example, at the end of section 8 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, RSO 1990, c H.7, after the text of the actual section, there are the citations “R.S.O. 1990, c. H.7, s. 8; 2017, c. 25, Sched. 3, s. 1 (2).” These mean that this section, as found in the current consolidation, was based in the RSO 1990, and was amended in some way by the SO 2017 (we would have to look at the 2017 amendment to know what changes were meant). These are the clues by which we can complete a legislative history, as we use them to travel backwards in time, through older versions of legislative sections.


Regulations are subordinate or delegated legislation… Every regulation is authorized by, and “belongs to” or is made under a statute. Often, the relationship between authorization statute and subordinate regulation takes the form of the statute stating that a certain individual (often a minister or other government representative) “may” or “shall” make regulations on one or more specific topics. These regulations tend to encompass the practical aspects or application of an act, and often take the form of lists, charts, tables, or even images (street signs being a classic example). Think of the relationship between act and regulation as the act setting out what can be included in a regulation: An act may permit regulations concerning, for example, medications covered under a provincial health care plan. The regulation will contain the actual detailed list of medications. The advantage of this system is that if this content was in the act, any changes to it (addition or deletion of medications, in our example) would require the entire three reading legislative process, which would be impossibly unwieldy.

Revised Statutes/Regulations

Over time, acts and regulations change… Sections get added, sections get amended, and sections get repealed. This meant that historically, in order to understand what a piece of legislation looked like at the current date, you had to take the original legislation, and then “cut and paste” (sometimes quite literally!) all the amendments to it. This, obviously, could be an immensely time consuming and confusing process. Hence, the practice of revisions began: Periodically, a jurisdiction would take all of the statutes, regulations, or both that were currently in force, and apply all those amendments that had taken place since the legislation originated (or was last revised). The new collection would be re-organized, often alphabetically, each piece of legislation would be renumbered to remove repealed sections/incorporate new sections, and published as a set of bound volumes that would essentially serve as a fresh start. This renumbering process is is why during a legislative history, the chapter and section number for a given clause may change, even if the clause text does not. Historically, this happened in Ontario every ten years, and more sporadically for federal legislation (also, federally, the acts and regulations would be revised at different times). However, thanks to online publication of consolidated law, revisions of the entire body of legislation in any jurisdiction are highly unlikely to ever occur again. The final Revised Statutes of Ontario (RSO) and Revised Regulations of Ontario (RRO) were in 1990, and the final Revised Statutes of Canada (RSC) was in 1985. The final revised regulations of Canada, slightly inaccurately named the Consolidated Regulations of Canada (CRC), was in 1978.

Short Title v Long Title

Bills, and the annual statutes that they become, often have both a long title, and a short title. The long title is, in essence, the formal name of the act as it was originally passed, such as An Act to provide for the integration of the local system for the delivery of health services (SO 2006, c 4). Clearly, this is a rather unwieldy way to refer to an act, so acts nearly always are given a short title, usually in one of the first or last sections of the act: The previously named act actually goes by the short title Local Health System Integration Act, 2006 as set out in section 56. For Ontario legislation, remember that the section that sets out the short title is omitted in the Consolidated version of the act, and indeed, even the evidence of the long title disappears… To learn the long title (which can provide useful insight into the goals of an act), we will need to return to the Source version.


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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.

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