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Using CanLII to Find a Case

CanLII (The Canadian Legal Information Institute) is a freely available database powered and supported by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.  Content focuses on Canadian primary law sources that include: 

  • Jurisprudence (Federal and Provincial case law, tribunal decisions)
  • Legislation (Federal and Provincial statutes and regulations)

You can also search CanLII for secondary law sources or legal commentary using CanLII Connects (case summaries and commentaries) and CanLII Docs (books, journals, articles, reports and research papers).  Please note that this isn't an exhaustive database (there are other subscription databases with quite a bit more content and value added features), but CanLII is a great start that is accessible to all Canadians. 

 Once you click on the case, take a look at the following: 

Tip: How to cite this: R v Beaver, 2020 ABCA 203

In text: (R v Beaver, 2020 ABCA 203 at para 7). *Indicate paragraph number if you are directly quoting text.  If you are summarizing you only need to cite the neutral citation in text). 

Why am I seeing stuff with square brackets and different acronyms? 

Example: R. v. Morelli, 2010 SCC 8, [2010] 1 SCR 253, 316 DLR (4th) 1

  • This citation is telling us that the case name or style of cause is Regent (abbreviated) v. Morelli. 
  • The first citation is the neutral citation or the number attributed by the courts. it was the 8th case heard in 2010 at the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • The second citation denotes the official report that was published in 2010 (square brackets indicate publication date) in Supreme Court Reports, the 1st volume of that year on page 253.
  • The third citation is a case reporter or a parallel citation.  You can find a copy of this case with a publisher-written headnote (case summary) in the 4th series of the Dominion Law Reports, volume 316, starting at page 1.

For the purposes of your writing, citing the neutral citation in McGill 10th ed. citation style is the most important. Often legal researchers use two citations (neutral, official reporter, or parallel citation) when citing case law in their work. It is best practice to cite the version in which you consulted. 

If you have a burning desire to know what a legal acronym stands for, you can check using the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations

Judicial treatment refers to what subsequent court decisions have said about a particular case.  It also refers to what cases have said about statutes or sections of a statute.

Research is not satisfactory until the researcher looks at the judicial treatment of the case or statute provision.

Searching for judicial consideration of a case or statute is called "noting up."

In CanLII, we can take a look at how a case has been treated by clicking on the treatment tab.  This can be helpful for both sides of the moot to determine if other SCC or lower court judgments have decided on similar issues. Cases that have been discussed with a certain level of “intensity” have the blue pepper icon. If you see a yellow pepper, it indicates the case was mentioned unfavorably since the original decision was rendered (See R v Oakes).


Most quoted paragraphs

CanLII has also added indicators to let the readers know how often a paragraph has been cited within a case.  The darker the bar, the most significant that paragraph has been in subsequent case law, and if you click on the bubble, you will be directed to all the cases that have cited that paragraph within CanLII's repertoire. 

(from R v Wittwer, 2008 SCC 33, para 21)

Navigating the SCC Online Resources

Lexum is a software company that designs products such as legal information databases and collaborates with the Supreme Court of Canada as well as the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to publish Canadian case law. You can use either the SCC website or the SCC Lexum database search to search for your case.  Both pathways will link to the same case as published in the Supreme Court Reporter (SCR) with the SCR headnote

Lexum does allow you to create an account (through Lexbox) that will allow you to save your searches in CanLII and in SCC Cases. Lexum also has a pretty robust current awareness feature, where you can receive email, JSON or RSS alerts on a specific case or a specific saved query. 

Much like CanLII there are multiple ways to search for a case using their advanced search tool. 

The Supreme Court of Canada website contains a lot of helpful information to the public about anything related to the SCC (you can read about current SCC judges, case law, legislation, rules of court, media releases etc.) 

Like CanLII, you can search for cases by the style of cause, citation, or number.  When the case comes up in a search, pay attention to some value-added features...they can link to additional documents that will be helpful to this course! Click on the case number link provided in the heading box.


By clicking on the Case Information link, you can then find resources available to your case, such as factums, leave to appeals, memoranda, and if it is a recent decision, you can even stream a recording. 


 summaries etc.  

Recommended Resources

Search MRU Library!

Things you can do in Library Search

  • Sign in to save searches, items, and to request materials.
  • Use the pin icon to save books and articles. 
  • Use the filters on the right. You will use Availability, Resource Type, and Date filters most often.
  • Some items won't be available. You can request unavailable items using interlibrary loan.
  • When viewing an item record, scroll down to the Get It or Full Text section to get the item.
  • Use the Virtual Browse when viewing a record of a print book to see books on the same topic


Finding too much?

  • Use AND between ideas to search for BOTH terms
  • Put “Quotation Marks Around Your Search" to search for exact phrases

Finding too little?

  • Use OR between your ideas to search for EITHER term
  • Put * after the root of a word to look for multiple endings

For better searching, think of multiple ways to describe your topic

Parliament of Canada Research Publications
ALL Legislation Table 


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Madelaine Vanderwerff

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Citing Canadian Case Law

The following are good resources that provide examples of citing Canadian Law using McGill citation style

Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (print copy in library)

Queen's University Legal Citation Guide

University of British Columbia's Legal Citation Guide