You are here

Finding Canadian Bills (Federal)

If you need help, please contact Chloe Riley, Acting Liaison Librarian for Criminology, Psychology & Philosophy at 778-782-3315 or car11@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

Use this guide for:

  • A brief outline of the legislative progress of passing bills through Parliament in Canada (Federal Bills)
  • Where to research bills at different stages of this legislative process

For researching case law, or current, consolidated or point-in-time laws, please view our other legal research guides.

More detailed information on Parliamentary procedure can be found in the House of Commons Procedures and Practice manual.

Overview: How bills become acts

Definition: Bills are draft Acts of Parliament which are published and circulated under the authority of the House.

First reading

The first stage required in creating an Act is to first propose it as a Bill in either the House of Commons or Senate. If the proposal is supported by vote, the Bill is numbered and distributed to chamber members. At this stage, it is read, but not debated. A bill goes through three readings in the chamber it is introduced.

However, a bill that is first proposed in the House of Commons must pass through another three readings in the Senate as well, and a bill that originates in Senate must similarly pass through three readings in the House of Commons.

The Bill is assigned a number based on who introduced it. There are three types of bills (see below), and bills are assigned a sequential number which reflects its type. Bills introduced in Senate begin with an S-; Bills introduced in the House of Commons begin with a C-.

Each session of Parliament begins a brand new numbering system, so that Bill C-25 will be found in every session of the federal parliament which produced that number of bills.

Bill numbering

Bill Number Type of Bill

C2 - C200

or

S2 - S200

Government Bills/Government Public Bills: Bills introduced by Cabinet Ministers or MPs 

Includes: bills relating to matters of public policy. Also includes all money bills - i.e., those that deal with revenue or taxation, which must be introduced in the House of Commons.

 

C201 - C1000

or

S201 - S1000

Private Members' Public Bills: Bills introduced by private members of any party, often the opposition

Includes: bills that deal with matters of public interest

C1001+

or

S1001+

Private Members' Bills: Bills introduced by petition to the House or, more often, in Senate.

Includes: matters of a particular interest or benefit to a person or group.

Print and online copies of the first reading copy of a Bill

Document Online Sources Print Sources

Bill...First Reading

House of Commons

LegisINFO

1994-present

  1. Search by bill number (e.g., C-12)
  2. Find the bill number from the correct parliament (e.g., Bill C-12 of the 41st Parliament)
  3. The bill's link indicates the date of the first reading
  4. The links under Text of the Bill provide the version of the bill introduced in the First Reading

Bennett Library KE 68 C25

1968 - present

Bill...First Reading

Senate

LegisINFO

1994-present

  1. Search by bill number (e.g., S-8)
  2. Find the bill number from the correct parliament (e.g., Bill S-8 of the 41st Parliament)
  3. The Bill's link indicates the date of the first reading
  4. The links under Text of the Bill provides the version of then bill introduced in the First Reading

Bennett Library KE 65 C35

1968 - present

Second reading

The bill then goes through a second reading in Parliament (Cabinet or House of Commons). The principle of the bill is debated, with these debates being recorded in Hansard. At the conclusion of the debate, a vote to "approve the bill in principle" is taken. If favourable, the bill is referred to a Committee stage; if not, the bill "dies."

The Second Reading version of a bill is rarely published. However, the debates from this second reading stage are extensively published in Hansard. The Hansard provides verbatim information on what is said in the House of Commons or Senate. This discussion may provide insight of the context of the proposed Bill.

Use the Hansard Index (print or online, as applicable) to locate your debate. The Hansard Index has entries by subject and name. In print, the index may be published in a separate volume or in the same volume as the debates.

Tip: In the event a question is not answered orally, it won't be in Hansard. If the content is long or complex, it may be published as a sessional paper.  These are listed in the Journals for each session of parliament.

Document Online Sources Print Sources
Hansard Debates (includes debates during 2nd reading of the Bill)

Parliament of Canada

Online coverage: 1994 - present

(The date range can be changed by selecting a different parliamentary session.)

Bennett Library

House of Commons: J 103 C1

Senate: J 103 S1

Print Coverage 1867 - present

Bills committee stage

If the bill passes the second reading, it will typically be sent to a committee for review and possible changes or amendments. Committees may be standing, special, or joint. Notes from the committee are recorded, along with any submissions received or evidence provided by witnesses with respect to the bill from individuals or organizations. Changes are often made to the bill at this stage.

For committees prior to 1994, there is a lack of a centralized location for browsing all committees' documentation.

Strategies for locating committee documents:

1. Search by committee name in Library Search, e.g., Standing Committee on Communication. This will lead you to individual catalogue entries, where you can click on the official (and usually longer) committee name in the author field to find more documents of this Committee.

2. For more recent committees, start with LegisINFO (1994 - present)

a. Search by bill number, e.g., C-19, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and Firearms Act

b. Under Committee Section, the Committee name, meetings, and seatings can be found. In this example, links will take you to the associated House of Commons Standing Committees' web page with mandate, documents, minutes of proceedings and evidence.

 

Document Online Sources Print Sources
House of Commons Committees - minutes, evidence, documents

House of Commons Committees 1994 - present (35th parliament--onwards)

Various
Senate Committees - minutes, evidence, documents

Senate Committees 1994 - present (35th parliament--onwards)

 Various

About House of Commons Committees

About Senate Committees

About Joint Committees: Senate and House of Commons

Third reading

Next, the House of Commons or Senate votes upon the bill in its revised form. If rejected, the bill "dies." If accepted, the bill is printed in its amended state "as passed". If the Bill originated in the House of Commons, it then goes to Senate for the same three-reading process; if the bill originated in Senate, it then goes to the House of Commons for three readings. By the time of the third reading of the Bill by the second chamber, there is usually little or no debate (provided it has already gone through one chamber).

If and once the Bill has passed both the House of Commons and Senate, this text of the Bill should be virtually the same as the final Act. However, please note that the third reading version of a Bill is not the official source of the law. You will need the royal assent version--the version later published in the Annual Statutes.

Document Online Sources Print Sources

Hansard

The Debates from the Third Reading of the bill

Parliament of Canada

Online Coverage: 1994 - present

(The date range can be changed by selecting a different parliamentary session)

Bennett Library J 103 C1

Print Coverage 1867 - present

Third Reading of the Bill

 

 

LegisINFO

1994-present

  1. Search by bill number (e.g., S-8)
  2. Find the bill number from the correct parliament (e.g., Bill S-8 of 41st Parliament).
  3. The links under Text of the Bill will often have links to Text of the Bill as Passed by the House or Text of the Bill as passed by Senate

Bills as Passed (House of Commons)

Bennett Library KE 68 C25

Current year only

or

Bills as Passed (Senate)

Bennett Library KE 65 C352

Current year only

Royal assent stage

Once a Bill is passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate, the Governor-General gives royal assent. The Bill is now an Act. As an act, it is renumbered, becoming a chapter in the volume of acts or statutes produced by that particular session of Parliament.

The text of the act is first printed in an issue of the Canada Gazette Part III and later reprinted in the annual volume of the Statutes of Canada. The royal assent version is authoritative, although you will need to check if the law is in force yet. If you are researching an older Act, you will want to check if there have been any amendments to that Act.

Acts may come into force immediately by royal assent, later on a particular date as indicated in the text of the Act, or, at a future date to be announced. Parts of the Act may come into force at different times.

Document Online Sources Print Sources

Canada Gazette Part III, Acts of Parliament

(Royal assent version of Act)

Canada Gazette Part III

1998 - present

or

The Canada Gazette

1841-1997

The Canada Gazette, Part III

Bennett Library, current year only: KE 89 C3423

For Acts prior to the current year, please refer to the bound Acts of the Parliament of Canada (aka Annual Statutes): KE 89 C342 

Note that these bound volumes will provide point-in-time legislation, but Acts may have been amended since publication. 

Proclamation

Unless otherwise specified in the act, the act comes into force (i.e., is proclaimed) when it receives royal assent. However, sometimes the act -- or just certain sections of the act -- will come into force on a later date. The proclamation when an act or part of and act will come into force is printed in the Canada Gazette Part I.

You can look at the statute itself (check the Coming into Force section) to see if parts or the whole of the bill will come into force later. Note that very occasionally some Acts or parts of Acts that are due to come into force under proclamation never actually become proclaimed.

Document Online Sources Print Sources

The Canada Gazette, Part I (Notices and Proposed Regulations)

(The proclamation when an Act will come into force).

Canada Gazette, Part 1

1998 - present

(official online version begins April 1, 2003)

The Canada Gazette

1841-1997

1954 - present

 

Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers

Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers

Look up Statutes by name to discover day assented to, day the act/act section came into force, or notice that the act/act section is not yet in force.

 

More guides on how bills become acts