Find Canadian legal cases by topic using the Canadian Abridgment Digests

If you need help, please contact Yolanda Koscielski, Liaison Librarian for Criminology, Psychology & Philosophy at or or Ask a librarian.

The Canadian Abridgment Digests (CAD) is a popular legal research tool which will help you find Canadian legal cases by topic, e.g., which cases in Canada have considered the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as outlined in the Charter? Using the CAD to find cases by topic can be more efficient than keyword searching of case law.

About the Canadian Abridgment Digests (CAD)

The Canadian Abridgment Digests provides summaries of Canadian case law (also known as "digests"). There are over 850,000 case law digests in the CAD.

Digested decisions come from Canadian courts at all levels (excluding Quebec civil law) and administrative tribunals (i.e., special courts that operate outside the regular judicial system to adjudicate issues such as those involving labour relations and workers' compensation).

Digests of reported cases date back to 1803, and unreported cases to 1986 (except Quebec). Case digests and full-text cases are updated daily.

You may use the Canadian Abridgment Digests to:

  • locate case law by legal topic
  • determine the judicial treatment of these cases

Browse case digests by legal topic, step by step

1. Start with Westlaw Next Canada

Access the Canadian Abridgment Digests via Westlaw Next Canada, of one the commercial legal databases to which SFU Library subscribes. Westlaw contains a wide range of legal resources and case law, the CAD being one of them. (The CAD was formerly a voluminous print resource.)

2. Select Canadian Abridgment Digests

Begin to browse cases by topic by selecting the Canadian Abridgment Digests link under Finding Tools.

Screen shot of Westlaw search page with arrow pointing to Canadian Abridgment Digest link

3. Browse by broad or specific topic

Case digests are organized by topic. You may browse case digests either at a very broad topical level (e.g., criminal law) or at a very specific level (e.g., freedom of peaceful assembly).​​ 

Example: Criminal Law --> IV Charter of Rights and Freedoms --> Freedom of peaceful assembly [s.2(c)]

4. Drill down to browse by sub-topic

In order to browse cases by sub-topic, you will need to drill-down the menu choices. For instance, once you select the broad topic, Criminal Law, you can then click on the sub-topic Charter of Rights and Freedoms, followed by another sub-topic Freedom of Peaceful Assembly. Relevant case law about peaceful assembly will be found here. Note that a single case will often be filed under multiple topics.

Screenshot of freedom of peaceful assembly link under general criminal law link

5. Go from case summaries to full text

Five case summaries can be found under this topic. Case summaries link to the full text of the case.

There are 5 results listed under this topic. The topic we are looking under is Criminal law - Charter of Rights and Freedoms - Freedom of peaceful assembly [s.2(c)]. A summary of each case is usually included, but not if the case is legal insignificant. You will also find a hyperlink to the full text of the case.


Search case digests by keyword

As an alternative to browsing under legal topics, you may also keyword search for legal topics.

Enter your search term up top to search the full text of the case law summaries. Select specify content to search to activate optional search boxes. Optionally, narrow your search to cases filed under one or more subject areas.

For instance, you may run a keyword search for explosives within the categories of MOT - Motor vehicles and TSP - Transportation. This brings you about 12 results, many to do with explosions in a transportation context. If you run this search without narrowing by sub-topic, you will receive many more - and likely less topically relevant - cases (about 2200 results), such as a case about exploding cell phones.


There are 12 transportation-related cases from our search for explosives. Above each case you will see a snapshot of the Canadian Abridgment Digests section that the case has been filed under. These are hyperlinked, so you may click on them to browse similar cases.


If you are new to a legal research topic, you may choose to keyword search the Canadian Abridgment Digests' classification tree. This is particularly helpful if you unsure which category your legal topic might be found. For example, copyright is largely classified under the broader topic, Intellectual Property, but also under Judges and Courts and Remedies. One topic will usually be classified under several main topics. This is demonstrated in our sample search of the CAD's classification tree for livestock below.


Search the CAD headings on the right. The full text of the associated case law digests will not be searched.

Livestock can be found under 5 legal subheadings! The headings you select to search within may depend on your research interests: commercial law, the use of livestock as chattel, or the various aspects of insuring livestock. After you check off the headings you are interested in, enter any subsequent search terms in the upper search bar.  You will then be searching within the full text of the case law digests themselves.



Video and print tutorials

Westlaw Next Customer Learning Centre

How to search the Canadian Abridgment Digests [video, 4m23s]

SFU Library: Finding Legal Cases by Topic [web guide]


Other digesting services

In addition to the Canadian Abridgment Digest, there are other sources for digested cases: (i.e., single, short paragraph summaries of the facts and issues of the case):

Westlaw Next Canada: 

All Canada Weekly Summaries (A.C.W.D) 

Weekly Criminal Bulletin (W.C.B.)

(To access these in Westlaw, click on the links to BestCase or Criminal Spectrum).

Lexis Advance Quicklaw

Lawyers' Weekly Case Digests (1986-2017, no longer published)

Canadian Case Summaries/Dominion Reports Service