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Legal information: Background information


Tip: The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest provides a comprehensive statement of the law, as derived from current statutes and relevant case law. Access it via Westlaw Next Canada. Use it as a starting point for questions like:
  • Can I harvest the eggs of wild birds?  (see wild bird entry)
  • Do the police require a warrant to search a front yard during a narcotics raid? (see entry Narcotic Control--Search and Seizure— Warrantless Searches)


Use a dictionary for concise definitions of words/concepts.

Online dictionaries

 Print dictionaries  

Most print legal dictionaries can be found in the reference sections of the Bennett and Surrey libraries. Try a subject search for law--dictionaries, law--canada--dictionaries, or law--canada--terminology in the catalogue.
  • The Dictionary of Canadian Law. Bennett and Surrey [print]
  • Sanagan's Encyclopedia of Words and Phrases, Legal Maxims, Canada. Bennett Reference [print] 4 vols.
  • Barron's Canadian Law Dictionary.  6th ed. Bennett and Surrey  [print]
  • Black's Law Dictionary [print]. A classic for lawyers.


Encyclopedias can provide a helpful overview of a topic, listing key concepts, readings, and terminology.


Don't forget books! A book or book chapter can be tremendously useful for gaining an overview of your legal research area. Here are some sample legal books owned by SFU Library:

Specialized texts and legal commentary

There are a number of key sources in various areas of the law that outline, define, and explain the law. For instance, in Criminal Law, there are several annotated Criminal Codes, such as Martin's Criminal Code of Canada which presents criminal cases by section of criminal law and discuss how the law has been applied.

Please contact your liaison librarian for more information in your topic area.

Online introductions to Canadian legal research

Legal Help

The BC Legal Services Society provides free legal help to low income individuals dealing with Family, Criminal and Immigration Law issues, as well as some other issues such as mental health or child removal. Please contact them to request legal advice and/or the services of a lawyer. The Legal Services Society offers support via a range of services.