Statute revisions

Every 15 to 30 years, a revision of the federal statutes takes place. The last revision occurred in 1985. The purpose of a revision is to consolidate all amendments to the statutes since the last revision, and to improve the statutes by making non-substantive changes in wording, style and organisation. The mandate of the revision committee, and the effect of the revision, is set out in the Legislation Revision and Consolidation Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. S-20.

Finding statutory provisions

There are many different tools for locating relevant statutory provisions. These include:

  • conducting an electronic search of the text of the statutes
  • reviewing text books, encyclopedias and periodical articles on your topic
  • reviewing CCH publications or other commercial statutes compilations on your topic, which often have detailed indices
  • finding references to statutory provisions within relevant cases
  • scanning the names of the statutes
  • checking the Table of Private Acts

There are various electronic versions of federal legislation, which can be used for full text searches of the statutes and regulations:

Finding amendments

Once you have located a statutory provision, you must ensure that it is current. There are a variety of ways to find amendments to a federal statute since the last revision.

  • The revision itself is updated regularly to include amendments passed during earlier legislation sessions. Your first step should be to check the date to which the consolidation you are using is current. If you are using an electronic version of the statutes, always check the scope note for the electronic version.
  • The version on Quicklaw is usually the most current electronic consolidation, and is annotated regarding legislative changes.
  • The Department of Justice version is updated weekly and is now an official version.
  • The CanLII version is updated from the Department of Justice version, and is generally less current than QL and the Department of Justice but more current than LawSource. It publishes RSS feeds to notify users of legislative amendments, and has a compare feature showing changes between versions.
  • The Table of Public Statutes contains a list of legislative amendments since the previous revision. Check the currency date for the Table to determine the extent to which you need to update the information in the Table.
  • Bills are available on Parliamentary Internet.

CCH publishes Canadian Legislative Pulse, an electronic subscription service that tracks the status of federal and provincial bills and regulations.

Carswell publishes Annual Legislation as part of the Canadian Abridgment. You can use Annual Legislation to track legislative amendments and new legislation in all Canadian jurisdictions.

Amending legislation will be listed in these sources either by year and chapter number, or by bill number. Locate a copy of the amending legislation, using the print or electronic sources described above.

Finding legislative history

To conduct effective research, and particularly to look for judicial consideration of a statutory provision, you need to know its prior year, chapter, and section numbers. You can obtain this information (back to the last revision) from historical notes at the end of each section of the revised statutes.

A sample reference to the predecessor provision to section 123 of the Bills of Exchange Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. B-4, appearing immediately below that section, is R.S., c. B-5, s. 124. This means that in the 1970 revision of the federal statutes, this section was cited as Chapter B-5, section 124.

The Table of Public Statutes is a useful resource for checking legislative history.

If you want to trace the references to a statutory provision back to the 1952 revision, you would look in the 1985 notes to find the 1970 section number, and in the 1970 notes to find the 1952 section number. If there are references to amendments between revisions, you find the text of the amendments by looking in the sessional volume for the year of the amendment. For example, a reference to S.C. 1997, c. 13, s. 2 refers you to section 2 of Chapter 13 in the sessional volume for 1997.

Hein Online contains PDF versions of the Revised Statutes of Canada (1886, 1906, 1927, 1952, 1970, 1985 revisions) and the sessional volumes of the federal statutes (from 1792). Access is freely available to members of the Law Society of BC from their desktops through the Reading Room at Courthouse Libraries BC.

If you need to dig further into the legislative history of older provisions, look up the name of the statute in the relevant issue of the Canada Legislative Index and find the bill number for it. You can then get references to parliamentary debates, and to other information about the bill, such as whether it was amended in committee. An excellent source of information for more recent federal bills is LegisInfo.

Citing a statute

The citation for a statute varies depending on whether you are citing to a revision, or to a sessional volume. If you are citing to section 6 of chapter S-20 of the 1985 revision, the citation is:

Statute Revision Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. S-20, s. 6.

If you are citing to an Act that was passed after the 1985 revision, the citation is:

Proceeds of Crime Act, S.C. 1991, c. 26.

When you are citing to a sessional volume, then instead of R.S.C. (for Revised Statutes of Canada) you must use S.C. (for Statutes of Canada).

There is often confusion about whether you need to cite all amendments when you cite a statutory provision. Section 40(2) of the Interpretation Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. I-21 provides that any citation to an enactment in legislation is deemed to include all amendments to that enactment. The Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation provides that citations are presumed to be to the statute as amended. It is therefore not necessary to include amendment information in court submissions. However, if the amendment is relevant to a point being discussed, it should be cited. Different rules apply to statute citations in contracts, as the court looks to the parties’ intention at the time the contract is made.