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Finding Historical Federal Legislation

If you need help, please contact Yolanda Koscielski, Liaison Librarian for Criminology, Psychology & Philosophy at 778.782.3315 or ysk6@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

 

Use this guide to locate historical Canadian Statutes and Regulations. For example:

  • Where do I find the original text of the Telesat Canada Act as introduced in 1969?
  • What did The Canada Labour Code look like in 1975?
  • How can I find the Access to Information Regulations as they appeared in 1983?

Federal Statutes

Finding Historical Statutes: Step-by-Step

Introduction:
  • The key sources for historical federal legislation are the Revised Statutes of Canada and the Statutes of Canada.
  • Both amendments to Acts and new Acts are consolidated with existing law via the Revised Statutes of Canada, a publication which was issued about every 15-30 years. Acts are now consolidated online.
  • The Statutes of Canada updates the Revised Statutes consolidation, containing both amendments to Acts and new Acts of each year. They are also known as The Acts of Parliament of Canada.
  • Various annotated Criminal Codes outline Criminal Law in detail, with associated case law and definitions

Step one: Ask yourself these clarifying questions:

  1. Do you know the name the Act you are looking for?
  2. Is there a particular year or range of years you are interested in?
  3. Are you certain your Act is a Federal Act? Your subject matter may fall under provincial or municipal legal jurisdiction, or be shared amongst several jurisdictions.
STOP! If you only know the topic area of the historical law you are looking for (e.g., copyright, citizenship), you should:
  • Search legal secondary sources first to find the name of the Act(s) associated with your topic.
  • Refer to the Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research's guide on finding statutory provisions related to your topic.
  • Use the English Index (2d)  KE 89 1985 C341  index ed.2 in the Revised Statutes of Canada [print] to look up keywords on your topic and find associated Acts. Example: This Index's entry for Citizenship points the reader to numerous Acts with provisions related to Canadian citizenship.

Step two: What time frame of the Act are you researching?

  • Scenario A: You seek the text of an Act or amendment to an Act as it appeared when introduced.

Example: The full text of the original Telesat Canada Act as introduced in 1969.

Solution: Refer to the Statutes of Canada associated with your selected year; in this case, look for the Statutes of Canada that covers 1968-1969. Inside, you will find the full text of  Acts and Acts to amend acts as they appeared when introduced. This is called point-in-time legislation - a snapshot of what the law looked like at that year in time.

In the Statutes of Canada, Acts are published in the order they were assented to. Use the table of contents at the beginning of the Statutes to locate your Act.

 

  • Scenario B: You seek the state of an Act in a particular year.

Example: The Canada Labour Code in as it existed in 1975.

Solution: This becomes more complicated. You will need to reconstruct the text of the Act as it existed in a particular year by tracing the amendments (if any) over time. You can do this by either researching backwards or forwards in time from a Revised Statutes of Canada (aka consolidation). As there is no consolidation for 1975 (only for years 1970 and 1985), we are unfortunately not able to simply pull a book off the shelf which provides us with a snapshot for that year in time. (Exception: some databases allow you to do this for the last 10 years or so).

Method 1: Researching backwards in time from a consolidation:

  1. Go to the Revised Statutes of Canada that immediately proceeds your year of interest. In our example, we would go to the Revised Statutes of Canada for 1985.
  2. The history of a statute is annotated at the end of each statute chapter or section. If you are interested in a particular section of the Act, note the statutory citation at the end of that section, for example, as seen in this section of the Canada Labour Code, L-2, c.57, s. 6:

Any person appointed or selected pursuant to subsection (2), (3), or (5) as an arbitrator or arbitration board chairman shall be deemed, for all purposes of this Part, to have been appointed pursuant to the collective agreement between the parties. R.S., c. L-1, s. 155; 1972, c. 18, s. 1; 1977-78, c. 27, s. 52.

The citations at the end of this section detail changes to this part of the Act since the last consolidation of 1970. Statutory citation parts are separated by semi-colons. This citation can be interpreted as follows, reading from right to left:

1977-78, c. 27, s. 52 = A change was made to this section which can be found in the 1977-78 Statutes of Canada, chapter 27, section 52. This Statutes of Canada corresponds with the 3rd session of the 30th parliament (1977-78). (During this parliament, an Act to Amend the Canada Labour Code received royal assent and a section of the Labour Code was repealed and replaced).

1972, c. 18, s. 1: = An change was made to this section in the Statutes of Canada of 1972, chapter 18, section 1.

R.S., c. L-1, s. 155: = This is a reference to the last Revised Statutes (1970), where the act appeared previously. This section was previously numbered section 155 in the 1970 RSC. We know that the Act has existed since at least 1970.

  1. Because, in our example, we are only concerned with the status of a section of the Labour Code in 1975, we can disregard the changes of 1977-78. However, we will consider the 1970 consolidation and the 1972 Statutes of Canada, and integrate the changes outlined 1972 Amendment to the 1970 consolidation. This allows us to reconstruct the status of the law as it existed in 1975. No changes were made in 1973, 1974, or 1975, so the 1972 version reflects 1975.

Another helpful tool for historical legal research is the Table of Public Statutes. The table summarizes the cumulative changes made to any statute: all amendments, repeals, and renaming. For years prior to 1985, this table is found as part of the Statutes of Canada, in the print volumes. For a list of changes made to statutes from 1985-onwards, the table is maintained online, and is called the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers. The Table of Public Statutes also lists the coming-into-force (CIF) dates of each Act or Act portion.

 

Method 2: Researching forward in time from a consolidation:

  1. Go to the consolidation immediately preceding your chosen year, e.g., 1970.
  2. We will then need to explore if any changes have been made from 1970 to 1975. To do so, you can manually review each of the Statutes of Canada for this interim time. In our example, the relevant Statutes of Canada to browse would be 1970-72, 1972, 1973-74, 1974, and 1974-76.

Notably, the publication of the Statutes of Canada corresponds with each session of parliament, not the calendar year. See Parliament - Durations of Sessions for a list or session and date correlations.

 

TIP: when tracing a legal statute using the Statutes of Canada, it is conceptually helpful to physically lay out all relevant print volumes at once and photocopy/scan in place.

 

Table of the History and Disposal of Acts: This is another helpful tool for historical legislation research. The tables detail changes to Acts occurring in-between two Revised Statutes of Canada revisions (for example, in-between 1970 and 1985). The Table can be found either published as a stand-alone book, (e.g., as for 1985), or as part of the appendices or supplements to the Statutes of Canada, depending on the year in question. It serves as a concordance between two Revised Statutes of Canada. Older case law may reference provisions which have since been renumbered, and this table can assist with tracking down the right section

Step three: Is the Act in force?

Acts or Amendments to Acts published in the Revised Statutes and Statutes of Canada will have already received Royal Assent by parliament. In some cases, though, the Act or parts thereof may not be in force yet.

An Act needs to be proclaimed to be in force. Acts may be proclaimed 1) upon royal assent, 2) at a future, pre-determined date, or 3) at a future undetermined date ("on a day to be fixed"). To check whether an Act has indeed been proclaimed, you may refer to the Table of Proclamations, found in both the Canadian Gazette, Part III, or in each Statutes of Canada. The Statutes outlines the date the Act (or a section of the Act, if applicable) is in force, plus includes a reference to its publication in the Canada Gazette, part III.

Statutes Repeal Act: Unproclaimed Acts with no stated coming-into-force day would theoretically exist in perpetual dormancy. The  recent Statutes Repeal Act addresses this loophole, designed to "repeal legislation that has not come into force within ten years of receiving royal assent" (unless an extension is granted). A list of Acts repealed each year is listed in the Canada Gazette, Part I, and those otherwise slated for repeal are found in the Tabling of Annual Reports Under the Statutes Repeal Act.

Private Acts

Private Acts usually pertain to individual corporations and are published in the Statutes of Canada. The online Table of Private Acts lists all private Acts from 1867 to the end of last calendar year, including information about any repeals or amendments.

Sources of Historical Federal Legislation

Statutes of Canada

Acts passed by parliament (including acts to amend or rename existing Acts) are regularly published in the Statutes of Canada (aka Acts of the Parliament of Canada aka Annual Statutes). Refer to the Statutes of Canada to see the text of a new Act or an Act amendment as it existed at a particular year in time. The historical version of an Act is also known as point-in-time legislation or source law.

From 2001 to present, the Statutes passed in each calendar year are published online as the Annual Statutes.

For 1867-present, the Statutes of Canada are also published in print volumes. A new set of the Statutes of Canada is published for each session of parliament. For instance, one set of Statutes of Canada is published for 1980-81-82-83 combined, to correspond with the 1st session of the 32nd parliament, spanning over 4 years.

Note: Amendments to Acts published in the Statutes of Canada only contain the text of the Act to Amendment, not the complete revised full-text of the Act.

SFU library provides multiple ways to access the Statutes of Canada:

Source Date range coverage Access Tips
Canadiana Online 1841 - 1900 Select the "Early Official Publications" link to browse the collection containing the digitized Statutes of Canada
Acts of the Parliament of Canada [print and online] 1867 - present

Photocopies of Acts held at the W.A.C. Bennett Library may be requested for delivery to the Belzberg and Fraser libraries.

LLMC (Law Library Microform Consortium) Digital Library 1867 - 1994 Browse Collections --> Canada --> Federal --> "1867- Dominion of Canada, Session Laws (Eng. to1968,Eng./Fr. 1969-)".
Government of Canada Justice Laws Website - Annual Statutes 2001 - present The Statutes of Canada are called the Annual Statutes here. These are the same.
HeinOnline 1792 - 2014 Browse Collections by Category --> Canada --> Acts of the Parliament of Canada (Annual Statutes). Note that the older statutes will fall under a different title, e.g. Statutes of Canada.
QuickLaw 1999 - present From the Legislation tab, select the option to search All Versions of legislation
CANLII 2003 - present The Versions tab allows you to compare historical changes visually. This functionality only goes back a short point in time right now (10 - 20 years or so).

 

Canada Gazette Part III

Before new Acts are published in the Statutes of Canada, but after they have been given Royal Assent, they are first officially published in the Canada Gazette, Part III. Part III began publication in 1974, and the Gazette transitioned to online-only publication in 2014. It includes a Table of Proclamations.

Revised Statutes of Canada

The Revised Statutes of Canada (R.S.C.) are a print consolidation of federal laws, incorporating all changes and amendments from the previous year of consolidation up to the noted year.

The Revised Statutes have been published infrequently since confederation: 1886, 1906, 1927, 1952, 1970, & 1985.

Notably, five supplements to R.S.C. 1985 were published. As the R.S.C. 1985 did not actually come into force until December 12, 1988 due to a publishing delay, these supplements contain changes in law that came into effect in the interim (1985-1988) and form part of the official consolidation.

Federal Acts are now continually updated/consolidated online. The online version of the Consolidated Statutes is official and no Revised Statutes have been published in print since 1985.

SFU Library provides access to both the print and digitized versions of the Revised Statutes. You may find the print version more user-friendly.

  • SFU Library holdings: 1985, 1970, 1952, 1927, 1906, [print], 1886 vol.1 + vol. 2. [online only for 1886]
  • HeinOnline Digitized version of all six Revised Statutes.
    • Once in HeinOnline, select Revised Statutes of Canada
Note: with each Revised Statutes, the chapters and sections are renumbered from that seen in the Statutes of Canada. Other changes might include editorial clean-up and language modernization.

 

Criminal Statutes (Historical)

Historical versions of the Criminal Code of Canada are available via several sources. Changes to the Criminal Code (and other criminal provisions) can be researched as with any other legislation, but dedicated Criminal Law resources provide a convenient snapshot of the state of the law during a particular year plus expert analysis. Note that a handful of criminal offences are found outside of the Criminal Code (for example, The Narcotic Control Act & The Young Offenders Act).

Some core resources annotate the Criminal Code and related criminal statutes, providing analysis, legal context and helpful citations to relevant case law. Historical versions are available.

  • Martin's Annual Criminal Code [print] 1957 - present
    • Includes case law related to various Code sections, cross-references to relevant sections or subsections of the law (e.g., where else a word is legally defined), and a concordance table that charts renumbered portions of the Act to its previous numbers. Updated each year to reflect changes to the law.
  • Tremeear's Criminal Code [print] 1990 - present
    • Includes commentary, related provisions and references to Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada case law
  • Crankshaw's Criminal Code of Canada, R.S.C., 1985 - present [print] + online via Criminal Source
    • Crankshaw's Legislative History provides a historical overview of changes (amendments, enactments, reenactments) to particular statutes/sections. To access online:
      1. Log into CriminalSource
      2. Select the CriminalSource tab
      3. Choose Commentary under Browse Table of Contents
      4. Expand the menu under Crankshaw's Criminal Code of Canada to Legislative Histories
      5. Locate the section of the act you wish to view the history of

Federal regulations

 

Introduction:
  • Regulations are often referred to as subordinate or delegated legislation. Parliament confers the ability to create regulations to persons or bodies (such as the Governor in Council, a Minister, or an administrative agency) under the authority of an Act, called the Enabling Act. Like Acts, regulations are a form of law that is legally binding.
  • The key sources for regulations are the Canada Gazette Parts I and II and the Consolidated Regulations of Canada.
  • Proposed regulations and amendments are initially pre-published in the Canada Gazette Part I. After approval and registration, regulations are officially published in the Canada Gazette Part II.
  • New regulations and amending regulations are periodically incorporated into existing law through the Consolidated Regulations of Canada, published in 1949, 1955, and 1978. Regulations are now consolidated online.

 

Finding historical regulations : step by step

Step one: Ask yourself these clarifying questions:

  1. Do you know the title of the specific regulations you are looking for?
  2. Do you know the name of the Enabling Act that allows these regulations to be created?
  3. Is there a particular year or range of years you are interested in?

Step two: What time frame are you researching?

  • Scenario A: You are looking for the original text of a regulation when first introduced

Example: The Access to Information Regulations​ that were introduced in 1983 

Example: The Canada Grain Regulations as they appeared upon first publication

Solution: Refer to the relevant issue of the Canada Gazette Part II where these regulations were initially published. This will give you the full text of the regulations as they first appeared in official form. 

Since Part II is published every second Wednesday, you will need additional citation information to locate the appropriate issue from that year. Federal regulations are cited by the Statutory Orders and Regulations (SOR) number assigned upon registration. You may also notice other types of statutory instruments that are cited by Statutory Instruments (SI) number within the Canada Gazette Part II.

Example:  Access to Information Regulations, SOR/83-507

The first two digits represent the year that the regulation was introduced (since 2000, four digits are used to specify the year), while the following number indicates the order of registration that year. In this example, SOR/83-507 marks the 507th regulation registered in 1983.

If you already have the relevant SOR number, proceed to the Canada Gazette Part II. If you need to access the print version, locate the bound volume(s) that contain issues from the desired year. Each issue will list its contents on the front cover; you may have to browse through a few issues to find the correct range of SOR numbers. 

Example: Volume 117, No. 12 contains SOR/83-484 to 528.

If you do not have the relevant SOR number, consult the "Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments," which is published quarterly as a part of the Canada Gazette Part II.

  1. If necessary, identify the Enabling Act using Table I (organized by regulation title)
  2. Locate the Enabling Act in Table II. All regulations created under the Act will be listed alphabetically by title, along with an accompanying citation. All amendments that have been made over time and their corresponding citations will also be listed.

In the current example, if you look up the Access to Information Regulations in Table I, you will find that they are created by means of the Access to Information Act. You can then proceed to Table II, and find the regulations (and their SOR number) underneath the Act.  

In some cases, citations in the "Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments" will point you to an official consolidation of the regulations rather than the Canada Gazette Part II. 

Example: Canada Grain Regulations, CRC, c. 889.

In this example, the citation indicates that you should refer to chapter 889 of the 1978 Consolidated Regulations of Canada, which will provide the full text of the regulation as it appeared at that point in time. To locate the earliest version of the regulation, you would need to identify the appropriate SOR number by consulting issues of the Index that pre-date this consolidation.

  • Scenario B: You need to determine the state of a regulation in a particular year (or range of years) after its initial publication

Example: How did the Canada Pension Plan Regulations appear between 1985-1995?

Solution:  You will need to reconstruct the text of the regulation at the desired point in time by tracing any amendments that were published since the previous consolidation.

1. Start by locating the last time that the full text of the regulation was published immediately prior to the target year(s). This will be found in either:

a) a version of the Consolidated Regulations of Canada OR

b) an issue of the Canada Gazette Part II (if the regulation was first published after 1978) 

In this example, you would start with the Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1978.

2. Now you will need to trace any amendments that were published in the Canada Gazette Part II in the intervening years by consulting the "Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments," as outlined in Scenario A. Select the issue of the index that was published immediately after the date range that you are researching (issues pre-1998 are located in selected print volumes of the Canada Gazette Part II). If your chosen time frame is after the 1978 consolidation, you may also use the current online Index to identify relevant amendments.

The index is cumulative, so Table II will list all changes to a particular regulation since the previous consolidation, along with accompanying citations. You will need to determine which amendments are relevant to your date range, then use the corresponding SOR numbers to locate the full text of each amendment in the Canada Gazette Part II. At this point, you should be able to reconstruct the text of the regulation at the desired point in time.

Amendments are grouped by section, so if you only need to reconstruct a specific part of the regulation, you can easily locate the relevant changes.

For instance, the index lists the following amendments to section 46.1 of the Canada Pension Plan Regulations

s. 46.1, added, SOR/86-1133, s. 6; SOR/90-829, s. 18; SOR/96-522, s. 8

This citation indicates that section 46.1 was added in 1986 and further changes were made to this section in 1990 and 1996. The SOR and section numbers will allow you to locate the full text of the amendments within Part II.

Note, however, that each issue of the "Consolidated Index of Statutory Instruments" includes only regulations that are in force during the year of publication. If a regulation is no longer in force, it will not be listed in ongoing issues of the index. Instead you will need to consult the final index from the year when the regulation ceased to be in force. 

 

Important: Certain regulations are exempt from publication. Some of these exceptions are outlined in section 15 of the Statutory Instruments Regulations. In other cases, the Enabling Act may stipulate that a regulation is wholly or partially exempted from the normal regulatory process.

 

 

Sources for historical federal regulations

Canada Gazette Part I 

Proposed regulations are pre-published in the Canada Gazette Part I to allow opportunity for public comment within the regulatory process. In addition, an accompanying Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) provides further background information on the issue being regulated. 

Depending on the focus of your research, you may wish to compare these draft regulations with the final version published in Part II or examine the RIAS to gain a fuller picture of the decision-making context surrounding a regulation.

Access to Part I is available in print at the W.A.C. Bennett Library (1954-present) and online through the Library and Archives Canada website (1947-1997) and the Canada Gazette website (1998-2007; 2008-present). 

Canada Gazette Part II

After proposed regulations have been approved and registered, they are published in the Canada Gazette Part II. Regulations typically come into force on the date of registration, unless the Enabling Act or the regulations themselves specify otherwise.

New regulations published in the Canada Gazette Part II, represent point-in-time legislation. Amending regulations will need to be considered in conjunction with existing text from the Consolidated Regulations of Canada and/or earlier issues of the Canada Gazette Part II to determine the state of the regulations on a particular date.

Within each issue of the Canada Gazette Part II, regulations are listed in registration order by their Statutory Orders and Regulations (SOR) numbers.

Source Date range coverage Access Tips
Library and Archives Canada website 1947-1997

This online version is often slow to load and not particularly user-friendly. You may find the print volumes easier to navigate.

Select "Find an Issue," then choose "Part II (1947-1997)" from the title dropdown menu, and the relevant volume number or year to narrow your search. You will need to open up an issue to determine the range of SOR numbers it contains.

Canada Gazette, Pt 2 [print] 1947-present

Photocopies of regulations held at the W.A.C. Bennett Library may be requested for delivery to the Belzberg and Fraser libraries.

The bound volumes list page number ranges on the spine. Browse the issue contained inside to locate the appropriate range of SOR numbers.

Canada Gazette website

1998-present

1998-2007 

2008-present

SOR number ranges are listed under the heading for each issue.

 
 

Consolidated Regulations of Canada

When an amending regulation is published in the Canada Gazette Part II, the changes that it introduces to the existing regulation are indicated, but the altered regulation is not reprinted in full.

Instead, consolidations that incorporate all new regulations and amendments are periodically published. These volumes provide the full, updated text of all regulations in force at the time of consolidation.

There are three print consolidations of federal regulations, which are available at the W.A.C. Bennett Library:

  • Statutory Orders and Regulations: Consolidation 1949 [print]
  • Statutory Orders and Regulations: Consolidation 1955 (CRC 55 in the Index of Statutory Instruments) [print]
  • Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1978 (CRC 78, or simply CRC) [print and online]

Notably, the 1978 consolidation was supplemented by a two-volume special issue [print] of the Canada Gazette Part II [print]. These volumes republished regulations made in 1978 that amended or revoked regulations in the new consolidation, with new section numbers that match the CRC 78. 

Regulations are now continuously consolidated online through the Justice Laws website (updates generally occur on a bi-weekly basis). The online version is considered official as of June 1, 2009, and no further printed consolidations have been published since 1978.

Understanding citations and key terms

Helpful example abbreviations if you are tracing legislation from a citation:

c = chapter of an Act or regulations

CIF = coming into force. The day the Act came into force.

CRC = Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1978.

CRC 55 = Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1955.

Enabling Act = Act that authorizes the making of regulations by certain persons or bodies (such as the Governor in Council, a Minister, or an administrative agency)

RIAS = Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement. A non-technical summary that provides context on the issue being regulated, the government's aims, stakeholder consultations, and the costs and benefits of the proposed or official regulation. RIAS statements are frequently published in the Canada Gazette, Parts I and II. 

RSC 1985 = Revised Statutes of Canada 1985. The last printed consolidation of federal law.

RSC 1985, c. 25 (2d Suppl.) = Chapter 25 of the second supplement to the Revised Statutes of Canada 1985

RSC 1970 = Revised Statutes of Canada 1970

s = section/pinpoint of an Act or regulations, pluralised as ss.

SC = Statutes of Canada. Also referred to as the Annual Statutes or Acts of the Parliament of Canada.

SI = Statutory Instruments. Other types of statutory instruments (excluding regulations) receive an SI number upon registration.

SOR = Statutory Orders and Regulations. This designation precedes the registration number assigned to regulations by the Clerk of the Privy Council (e.g. SOR/79-419)

Legal Information: Citing & Writing

Pre-1867 historical federal legislation

Collections of digitized Bills, Debates and other documents from the 19th century are available through some databases:

Early Canadiana Online

Law Library Microform Consortium

Helpful resources

  • BC Courthouse Library Society. Tracing the History of Legislation. [video] Excellent video tutorial on researching the history of a federal statutes, using "crime comics" law as its example. Contains a few outdated screenshots, but the content is still accurate. 
  • Legal research: step by step [print]
  • Updating statutes and regulations for all Canadian jurisdictions [print] Contains an exhaustive table of all sources of Canadian statute law from 1867 onwards.
  • Researching Canadian Federal Statutes by the Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research. Includes regulations.