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Legal citation

General rules about citing Canadian cases and secondary sources are set out below. The citation examples are based on the 7th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (the McGill Guide), as adapted by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Citation of Authorities (Civil & Criminal Practice Directive, 30 May 2013).

The 8th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation has now been published. Changes in that edition are not yet incorporated into this page, with the exception of the change for citation to looseleaf publications.

This page does not cover legal citation in detail. A number of references are listed below that provide extensive information about citation. Citation of Canadian legislation is covered within the Statutory Research section of this site.

Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation

The 7th edition of the McGill Guide recommends some changes to accepted citation practice. The biggest change is elimination of periods.

Those unsure about whether to adopt the changes recommended in the 7th edition should review the list in the McGill Guide of law reviews and courts that have adopted the 7th edition. Another suggestion is to review the practice directions and recent decisions from the courts in your jurisdiction to see whether these changes have been adopted.

For example, British Columbia courts recently adopted the 7th edition of the McGill Guide but require periods to remain in citations. The Alberta courts have adopted the 7th edition of the McGill Guide, including the elimination of periods, but also require that the style of cause be bolded.

For further reading and reaction to the 7th edition, see

Students may find Intra Vires a useful tool for preparing citations that comply with the McGill Guide. See my review of Intra Vires for further information.

General principles

Citation rules will be easier to understand and remember if you keep the following principles in mind.

  • A citation should enable you to find the document easily.
  • A case citation should indicate not only the name of the decision and where it can be found, but also its year, the jurisdiction, and the court. This provides important information for assessing the relevance and weight of a case.
  • A citation should not contain more information than is necessary. For example, since a neutral citation already indicates the jurisdiction and court, it is not necessary to add this information again at the end of the citation. Similarly, since the Supreme Court Reports only publishes decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, it is not necessary to add (S.C.C.) at the end of the citation.

Neutral citation

Neutral citation has been adopted by all Canadian superior courts, and by several Canadian tribunals. The citation and the paragraph numbering is assigned by the court rather than by a private publisher. It is therefore consistent across all published versions of the decision. A neutral citation can be used to “find by citation” in electronic services such as CanLII, WestlawNext Canada and Quicklaw.

Canadian cases should be cited to their neutral citation first.

Examples of neutral citations are as follows:

Neutral citation
style of cause year court number pinpoint
Leith v. Stockdill, 2000 BCCA 263 at para. 5
Laflamme v. Forrest, 2000 BCSC 617 at para. 12
Sansalone v. Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co., 2000 SCC 25 at para. 18

Other than the comma separating the style of cause from the citation, there is no punctuation in the neutral citation form.

If there is no neutral citation for the decision, then the British Columbia courts permit either a print reporter citation, or citation to an electronic source. The following examples, in the order listed, are from Quicklaw, CanLII and WestlawNext Canada. Note that each citation indicates the year, jurisdiction and court.

Lougheed Enterprises Ltd. v. Armbruster, [1992] B.C.J. No. 712 (C.A.)
Lougheed Enterprises Ltd. v. Armbruster, 1992 CanLII 1742 (B.C.C.A.)
Lougheed Enterprises Ltd. v. Armbruster, 1992 CarswellBC 20 (C.A.)

Parallel citations

A parallel citation lists another source, either print or electronic, where the case has been published. An example of a neutral citation with a parallel citation to a reporter series is:

Sharab Developments Ltd. v. Zellers Inc., 1999 BCCA 39, 65 B.C.L.R. (3d) 67

In the British Columbia courts, parallel citations are optional for Canadian cases. However, the 7th edition of the McGill Guide requires a parallel citation in addition to the neutral citation if the case has been reported. Many courts follow a similar rule.

Notice to the Profession on Citation of Authorities issued by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench is similar to the British Columbia rule, and makes parallel citation to a print reporter optional.

Practice Direction issued by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice takes a stricter approach, and contains the following requirements regarding decisions from electronic databases:

  • Copies of judicial decisions obtained from databases dedicated to the publication of judicial decisions, such as QL and CanLII, are acceptable for filing if the copy has paragraph numbering consistent with the paragraph numbering in the decision as released by the court.
  • Parties should ensure the decision has not been subsequently amended.
  • Parties should provide citations for any paper versions of the decision in addition to the citation of the electronic database.
  • Parties should provide the date that the decision was obtained from an electronic database, as part of the citation information.
  • The neutral citation should also be included.

Electronic source information

The 7th edition of the McGill Guide requires a citation to an electronic version of a judgment to include a reference to the electronic database from which the judgment was obtained. For example, if the judgment referred to above was reproduced from CanLII, the citation would be as follows:

Sharab Developments Ltd. v. Zellers Inc., 1999 BCCA 39, 65 B.C.L.R. (3d) 67 (CanLII)

This additional electronic source information is no longer required by the British Columbia courts. The Alberta practice is that despite differences between paragraph numbering in the electronic source and in the print reporter, the electronic source can be used. However, if the electronic source is non-obvious from the citation then the source should be identified by adding “QL”, “WL” or “CanLII” at the end of the citation.

The most common electronic sources, with abbreviations, are as follows:

Australian Legal Information Institute AustLII
British and Irish Legal Information Institute BAILII
Canadian Legal Information Institute CanLII
WestlawNext Canada WLNC
LexisNexis Lexis
Quicklaw QL
Westlaw WL

Pinpoint references

A pinpoint reference refers to a paragraph number or page number. Since paragraph numbers are more precise, you should cite to them wherever possible.

Citation problems can arise where paragraph numbering has been assigned by a publisher, and a pinpoint reference is made to that paragraph numbering, but a different version of the case is cited or reproduced. Make sure that any pinpoint references you make are consistent with the electronic or print version of the case that you are citing to and providing to the court.

This problem should not arise for cases with a neutral citation, as the paragraph numbering will have been assigned by the court and should be consistent in all versions of the case. The date on which a court started to assign its own paragraph numbers varies considerably depending on the court:

  • The B.C. Court of Appeal was using paragraph numbering in its judgments as early as 1993.
  • The B.C. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Canada did not use numbered paragraphs until 1995.
  • The Ontario Court of Appeal did not introduce numbered paragraphs in its judgments until May 1997.

Print reporter citations

This Canadian case is used as an example: Lougheed Enterprises Ltd. v. Armbruster, [1992] 2 W.W.R. 657, 63 B.C.L.R. (2d) 316 (C.A.)

Lougheed Enterprises Ltd. v. Armbruster (1992) 63 B.C.L.R. (2d) 316 (C.A.)
[1992] 2 W.W.R. 657 (B.C.C.A.)
style of cause year volume reporter series page court

This table shows the case with citations to two different reporters, broken down into the various elements that comprise a traditional legal citation. Some of these elements are reviewed in more detail below.

style of cause This is italicised or underlined.
year Round brackets are used if the reporter series is not organised by year. Square brackets are used if the reporter series is organised by year, such as the Supreme Court Reports, and the Western Weekly Reports. A comma follows round brackets, and precedes square brackets.
reporter Use the abbreviation for the reporter.
series Include the series number for reporters published in series, such as the British Columbia Law Reports and the Dominion Law Reports.
page The page number may be followed by a pinpoint reference to a particular page in the decision. For example, a pinpoint reference to page 320 in the B.C.L.R. citation above would be (1992), 63 B.C.L.R. (2d) 316 at 320 (C.A.).
court If the jurisdiction or court level are apparent from the name of the reporter, you do not need a full reference to the court. The B.C. Court of Appeal requires the citation to indicate if the appellate decision was made in Chambers. For example, 2011 BCCA 19 (in Chambers).

Unreported decisions

Sometimes you must cite to a case that has no neutral citation, is not reported in print, and is not available electronically. Following the rules established by the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the correct citation would be:

Lougheed Enterprises Ltd. v. Armbruster (31 January 1992), Vancouver CA012380 (B.C.C.A.).

If a decision has been assigned a neutral citation, then instead of using the unreported citation format you should cite the case using the neutral citation.

Treatises and loose-leafs

The standard format for treatises is

Author, Title (Place of publication: Publisher, Year)

The year is the date shown on the copyright page.

This must be modified for loose-leaf publications to show the date of the most recent release in the publication that was consulted. An example is:

S.M. Waddams, The Law of Damages (Toronto: Thomson Reuters, 2011) (loose-leaf updated 2011, release 20)

The 7th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation states that the citation should refer to the date on which the loose-leaf was consulted. However, this has been changed in the 8th edition, which requires the citation to include the Update Release information, as in the example above. The Supreme Court of Canada and the British Columbia courts have also adopted the citation style shown in the example above. This style is preferable because many loose-leaf publications are not consistently updated, making the date the book was consulted an unreliable indicator of its contents.

Journals and seminars

The standard format for journal articles is

Author, “Title of article” (Year) Volume Journal Page

An example is:

Natasha Affolder, “Why study large projects: environmental regulation’s neglected frontier” (2011) 44 U.B.C. L. Rev. 521

Different information needs to be included for seminar papers:

Fisher, “Forest & Range Agreements and the Provincial Crown’s Duty to Accommodate”, Aboriginal Law Conference 2004 (Vancouver: Continuing Legal Education Society of B.C., June 2004)

Blogs and tweets

The standard format for citing a blog entry is

Author, “title” (date), online: name of website <URL of website>

An example is:

Bill Braithwaite, “Regulators consider policy that would allow poison pills to remain unchallenged” (5 December 2011), online: Canadian Securities Law <http://www.canadiansecuritieslaw.com>

The standard format for citing a tweet is

Name, “full content of tweet” (date and time), online: Twitter <twitter.com/full_path>.

An example is:

Martin Felsky, “  Someone just asked a Relativity forum how to post 91,000 search terms. I always thought 200 were too many #ediscovery” (5 February 2017), online: Twitter <https://twitter.com/mfelsky/status/828332894980546560>.

 

References

Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Practice Note, Citation of Authorities.

Best, Catherine, “Intra Vires – a new Canadian citation tool based on McGill Guide citation rules” (20 October 2013), online: Canadian Legal Research Blog <legalresearch.org>

British Columbia Court of Appeal Directive, Citation of Authorities (Civil & Criminal Practice Directive) .

Canadian Citation Committee, Neutral Citation Standard for Case Law.

Canadian Citation Committee, The Preparation, Citation and Distribution of Canadian Decisions.

Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 7th ed. (Toronto: Thomson Carswell, 2010).

Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations.

Citing Electronic Information in History Papers.

Colledge and Lapointe, “How does a ‘uniform’ citation guide fail to be uniform? A review of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation” (2011) 74 Saskatchewan Law Review 275.

Columbia Guide to Online Style.

Duhaime’s Legal Citations & Abbreviations.

Lexum, “Decision Names” (3 August 2011) online: slaw <www.slaw.ca>.

Martin, Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (US).

New York University School of Law, Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations.

Mokanov, “Environmentally-friendly Citations” (1 March 2010) online: VoxPopuLII <http://blog.law.cornell.edu/voxpop>.

Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Practice Direction regarding filing of judicial decisions from electronic databases, and regarding citation of all judicial decisions.

Prince, Bieber’s Dictionary of Legal Citations (Buffalo, N.Y.: W.S. Hein, 2009).

Queen’s University Faculty of Law, Legal Research Materials, Legal Citation (Canada).

Raistrick, Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations, 3rd ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2008).

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 19th ed. (Cambridge: Harvard Law Review Association, 2010).

University of Chicago Manual of Legal Citation, 20th ed. (University of Chicago Law Review, 2010).