Background information: Legal information resources

Legal information can be overwhelmingly complex and specialized. Using dictionaries, encyclopedias, book chapters, and online introductory guides can be a great way to familiarize yourself with a new legal topic before diving into the case law and legal academic journal articles. Below are some recommended sources to get started.


Use a dictionary for concise legal definitions of words and concepts. Unfortunately, many legal dictionaries are still only available in print format. However, many of these print dictionaries can be checked out of the library.



To find more do a browse search by subject in the Library Catalogue for law--dictionarieslaw--canada--dictionaries, or law--canada--terminology.


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

Key Resource: The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (CED) 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)

CED entry footnotes will point you to precedent-setting cases and relevant legislation.


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.

Introductions to Canadian legal research

Legal help

Legal Aid BC 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. Legal Aid BC offers support via a range of services.