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Finding legal cases by topic

Use this guide to locate case law (i.e., individual court cases) by topic or subject.  For example:

  • all cases on cyberbullying in Canada that have been tried since 2005
  • cases on spousal abuse that were heard in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Locating case law by subject is time intensive so allow yourself sufficient lead time.

For information on how to track down a specific, known legal case, e.g., Lebrun v. High-Low Founds Ltd., 1968, 69, D.L.R. (2d) 422 (S.C.B.C.), please refer to our guide, How to Find Legal Cases.

Strategies & sources for finding case law by topic

Keyword searching of case law

A keyword search is a simple way to get started with your case law research. In a keyword search, your search term(s) may be searched for anywhere in the full-text of the document.

Keyword searching can be particularly fruitful if your search concept is fairly unique. For instance, a keyword search for mustard gas would likely return significantly more on-topic cases than a keyword search for insurance fraud would.

When choosing keywords, keep in mind that the case law writing tends to be formal in tone and may favour the legalistic wording of a concept over the popular.

CanLii
Search CanLii by keyword to find decisions from Canadian Provincial, Supreme, and Appeal Courts, the Supreme Court of Canada and specialized courts, as well as provincial and federal legislation. CanLii also contains decisions from a wide range of boards and tribunals (e.g., BC Human Rights Tribunals). No classification scheme or subject-indexing is available.

To find important cases on your topic plus an explanation or legal analysis of the topic, search for articles in academic legal journals or other secondary legal literature sources.

Index to Canadian Legal Literature (ICLL) via WestlawNext Canada.
The ICLL provides references to books, legal journal articles, government publications and other sources that discuss Canadian legal topics. 

TIP:  Include the word AND in-between your search keywords, or put your search word in quotation marks to search them as a phrase.  
 
Examples:
  • Maple AND Leaf AND Foods
  • "Maple Leaf Foods"
A plain keyword search for Maple Leaf Foods in the ICLL will oddly return articles with the any one of the words maple, leaf, leaves, or food in it, leading to many irrelevant results
 

 

Canadian Electronic Library
Search the policy papers of think tanks, government agencies, non-profits and others for in-depth analysis on a Canadian legal issue and references to key cases on your topic.

Canadian Newsstream
Newspaper articles may identify key cases on a particular topic and discusses the case in plain language. Databases such as Canadian Newsstream index thousands of newspaper articles from many Canadian newspapers. Try a search for your topic keywords combined with the keyword "judgment". (Note: There is no "e" in judgment when referring to legal judgments).

Factiva
Contains a small selection of legal journals. Search for a specific title within Source (tip: uncheck the box to Exclude Discontinued Sources). Or, search under Subjects Law Enforcement or Corporate Crime/Legal Action.

HeinOnline
Select "Law Journal Library" within the database to search articles from over 1,620 legal journals--US, Canadian, and international Content.

QuickLaw
Contains a large collection of law journal articles. Journal collections searched can easily be limited to Canadian or US/International only.

SFU Library Catalogue
Search the catalogue for books, especially textbooks and treatises, on your legal topic. Textbooks provide broad overviews of legal topics, and can point you to key cases. Treatises discuss a legal issue in-depth. For example, a keyword search for euthanasia canada law (and limiting to books) brings up several useful books.

Dedicated tools for locating case law by topic

In addition to keyword searching of case law and secondary legal literature, there are longstanding specific tools designed to help you locate cases by topic. Here are some that SFU Library provides access to:

Canadian Abridgment Digest

Via WestlawNext Canada.

The Canadian Abridgment Digest (CAD) summarizes Canadian legal cases into a short paragraph or two, allowing for quick reviews of their relevance. All abridged cases are organized by a classification system, allowing you to locate similar cases at once.

For instance, by browsing the classification tree, you can find cases organized under specific subjects such as: Criminal Law - Charter of Rights and Freedoms - Freedom of peaceful assembly.

The scope of the the Canadian Abridgment is broad and deep, with over 750,000 Canadian cases abridged, from 1803 to present. The Abridgment covers all reported Canadian cases, and includes unreported cases as well from 1986 onwards. Updated daily. The Abridgment can be searched or browsed; for further help, please refer to our guide, Using the Canadian Abridgment.

Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (C.E.D.)

Via WestlawNext Canada.

The C.E.D. is a legal encyclopedia in which legal topics are summarized. Important cases and/or legislation relating to each topic are included in the extensive footnotes.

Encyclopedia entries can be found on a range of Canadian legal topics, providing a broad overview of the law as it stands now. These brief and up-to-date entries are an excellent way to begin legal research on a Canadian topic. Entries can be searched or browsed through the classification system and include such topic-specific entries as Criminal Law — Offences — Automobile Master Key — Selling — Actus Reus.

Cases covered are from Ontario and the four western provinces.

Crankshaw's Criminal Code of Canada -- Case Law by Criminal Code Section

  • Log into CriminalSource
  • Select Criminal Commentary
  • Select Table of Contents
  • Select Crankshaw's Criminal Code of Canada
  • Browse down to your Criminal Code section
  • Cases citing C.C.C. sections will be listed here

Finding a case by legislation cited

If you wish to find which cases have cited a particular section of law you are researching (for instance, sections of the Criminal Code of Canada), you can do so in WestlawNext Canada, using the KeyCite feature.

  1. Select "Statutes and Legislation".
  2. Once you have located your desired statute or regulation, click to a specific section it.
  3. If available, click on the green letter "C" hyperlink. This link should retrieve cases that have cited this section of the law.

KeyCite a Statutory Provision in WestlawNext Canada. (Video tutorial 2:20)

 

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.