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Legal Subject Guide with Legal Citation: Legal Citation Basics

This guide lists a selection of print and electronic resources available at the VCC Library, including a guide to the basics of citing Canadian legislation and court cases.

Legal citation

Cite Canadian legal documents by following the Canadian Guide to Uniform legal citation. 

If you are citing for an assignment, add additional formatting to follow the style guide your instructor requests. If you're citing a Canadian act online but using APA for example, follow the legal guide and add the link.

Citing Canadian Legal Information Sources

See below for explanations and examples for constructing Canadian legal citations.

This is based on the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 8th ed (aka the The McGill Guide), in VCC's downtown library (KF 245 C36 2014). 

Preparing a factum or submission to the BC Court of Appeal? Look at: 

Citing Acts (Laws)


Citing Legislation: Basic Components

Include the name of the act, abbreviated volume & jurisdiction, the year, and then the chapter number.  What does this mean?

Sample full citation: Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46.

Title: Criminal Code

Statute volume: Revised Statutes RS
Every year some entirely new laws are created, but most laws just change existing laws. Each year, all the new laws are printed and put online.

Existing laws do not get re-printed every year, or every time something is changed. For example, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code will only include the changes; the entire Criminal Code is not reprinted. Changes are incorporated into the electronic version.

Every so often all the public laws are re-printed to include all the changes; this is called a Revised Statutes (RS).  If the law is entirely new, it's just called a Statute (S).  

Jurisdiction: Canada C
If it's a federal law, the jurisdiction is Canada (C).  If it's British Columbia, the jurisdiction is represented by BC. (p. E-29 to E-30 of the McGill Guide have abbreviations for all Canadian provinces and territories.)

Year: 1985
The last reprinting of all Canada's federal laws--or Revised Statutes--was in 1985.  So Canada's Criminal Code is dated 1985, even though it is much older than that.  The McGill Guide instructs to assume a law is up-to-date to the day you published your paper. So the citation Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 refers to the current version, including recent changes (McGill, 2.1.11 p. E-32).  Your professor may give you other instructions. 

Chapter: c C-46
The small c indicates the word chapter.  The C-46 means that the Criminal Code is the 46th chapter starting with the letter C in the 1985 Revised Statutes of Canada. A law that is not in a revised statute, for example because it was new in the year 2002, does not include a letter other than the small c representing the word chapter. RSC 1985 was the most recent federal revision.

Other elements: pinpoint.
Section number: s 
You can be very specific, citing subsections as well:
Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 163(1)(b).

Other elements: Indexing, (session or supplement)
Include these if relevant. See the McGill GuideRule 2.1.1 Statutes General Form for more details (p E-23). 

Other examples:
Canadian federal act
Agricultural Marketing Programs Act, SC 1997, c 2.

Note the difference between the citation for the Criminal Code and this more recent act.  There's no "R" and no letter with the chapter.  This act came after the latest revised statutes, ie post-1985.

British Columbia acts
Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c 318.

The "R" means this is a revised statute; in 1996, BC's acts were reprinted in consolidations.  The "S" means statutes, and the BC means British Columbia. The Motor Vehicle Act has been updated many times since 1996, but unless the government does a substantial revision and assigns the act a new date to reflect that, we still cite it as the year of the last revision.

Administrative Tribunals Act, SBC 2004, c 45
Note the difference between the citation for the Motor Vehicle Act and this more recent act.  There's no "R," because this act was created after the last revision.


Citing BC Regulations
Energy Efficiency Standards Regulation, BC Reg 14/2015
See p. E-36 and E-37 for more examples of citing provincial and federal regulations.

Citing Court Cases


Citing Court Cases

This is based on the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, (The McGill Guide), adapted to suit the resources freely available to our students. Note: Vancouver Community College subscribes to Quicklaw, but not any print reporters, so this guide is adapted accordingly.

Include the names of parties (shortened as needed). Use a neutral citation, where available; do not create your own. The court assigns the neutral citation based on the year, the court (abbreviated), and a number (McGill Guide p. E-57). The format is slightly different for cases decided before there were neutral citations (pre-2000ish). UBC Law Library has a detailed guide to citing case law. 

Sample citation (civil case): CCH Canadian Ltd v Law Society of Upper Canada, 2004 SCC 13.

Style of cause: CCH Canadian Ltd v Law Society of Upper Canada,
"Style of cause" is a shortened, less formal, name of a court case. Note that there is no punctuation after v; use c for French-language cases.

Parties: CCH Canadian Limited and The Law Society of Upper Canada

Neutral citation: 2004 SCC 13

Year: 2004
Decision issued in 2004. 

Court: Supreme Court of Canada
This is a Supreme Court of Canada case, abbreviated as SCC.

Number: 13
13th case decided by the Supreme Court in 2004.

Judge: McLachlin, CJC
If it is relevant to include the judge's last name and abbreviated title at the end of the case, but this is not always needed.  Because she is the Chief Justice of Canada, we use CJC with McLachlin. J means Justice or Judge (The McGill Guide, p. E-67 for more information).   

 Online Databases

You might also include the online database's identifier for the case, if that is how you retrieved it.

Depending on the case, it may just be the case name plus the name of the database in brackets:

Sample citation (civil case, CanLII): CCH Canadian Ltd v Law Society of Upper Canada, 2004 SCC 13 (CanLII).

The same case cited from QuickLaw is: 

Sample citation (civil case, QuickLaw): CCH Canadian Ltd v Law Society of Upper Canada, [2004] SCJ No 12 (QL).

Other sample case citations

Criminal case (no neutral citation, Supreme Court of Canada): R v Landry, [1986] 1 SCR 145.
R represents the queen (regina) or king (rex). It's a criminal case and the state initiated the first legal action. Landry is the last name of the person charged. Note that there is no punctuation after R or v.
indicates the official reporter Supreme Court Reports.
is the year published in the Supreme Court Reports.
1 shows it appears in the first print volume for that year, starting on page 145. The Supreme Court Reports are online, but pagination does not correspond in the print & electronic versions. (McGill Guide p. E-47 for criminal cases; pp. E-43 & E-44  for neutral citation and/or official reporters.) 

Criminal case (with neutral citation, Supreme Court of Canada): R v Bryan, 2007 SCC 12.
The McGill Guide suggests providing two sources for a case (p. E-43), however the neutral citation should be adequate for undergraduate papers. 

Countries, municipalities, provinces, and federal units: Calgary (City) v Canada, 2012 SCC 20.
Identifier such as "city" or "township" is enclosed in parentheses.  Common name of country is used (vs abbreviation or formal name). See the McGill Guide, p. E-46

Organization and a federal unit (in BC Supreme Court)Providence Health Care Society v Canada, 2014 BCSC 1160
This is a case against the Attorney General of Canada. Canada is used a shorter form of this.

Undisclosed parties (Alberta Provincial Court): Re TM, 2007 ABPC 38.
Publication restriction on identifying the individual(s) so initials used. Apprehension order of a minor, with no opposing party in court (McGill Guide, p. E-49).

Alberta Queen's Bench*: Lameman v Alberta, 2012 ABQB 195.
Notice the court shortened the party names to create the style of cause.  Most of the time the reporter will do this.  If not, shorten it to the last name of the first party (pp. E-45 & E-46, McGill Guide).  Shorten provinces as shown on p. E-46 of the McGill Guide.  Full party names are:
Alphonse Lameman on His Own Behalf and on Behalf of All Other Beaver Lake Cree Nation Beneficiaries of Treaty No. 6, and Beaver Lake Cree Nation v Her Majesty the Queen In Right of the Province of Alberta and the Attorney General of Canada.
but you don't need to include all that information!
*The prairie provinces refer to their provincial supreme courts as "Queen's Bench."

Hierarchy of sources

The McGill Guide specifies the order for sources:

See p. E-49, 8th ed.

The McGill Guide encourages "parallel citation." This means mentioning at least two sources.

Your workplace may differ from this guide, which assumes you're citing from CanLII, QuickLaw, or a court's website. 

Reference CanLII before a subscription database, because your reader may not have access to the fee-based source.

McGill Guide

These instructions are based on this book. Follow any practice directions from relevant courts; for example, BC courts follow a modified version of the 7th edition and require punctuation in the citations.

If you're citing for academic work, you may wish to add information requested by that style guide. For example, identify format for MLA or add a link for APA. 

Legal Abbreviations

BCPC: British Columbia Provincial Court
BCSC: BC Supreme Court
BCCA: BC Court of Appeal
FC: Federal Court of Canada
SCC: Supreme Court of Canada

RSBC: Revised Statutes of British Columbia
SBC: Statutes of British Columbia (new statute since last print revision)
RSC: Revised Statutes of Canada
SC: Statutes of Canada (new statute since last print revision)

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