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Canadian Law: Introduction
Canada is a federation of 10 provinces and three territories. Generally, the legal system is based on English common law, with a two-tier legal system of federal and provincial law. The province of Québec (like the state of Louisiana) uses a civil law system based on French law.
Canadian federal law somewhat resembles United States federal law in that it has a three-part system, with executive, judicial, and legislative branches. However, Canada is a parliamentary democracy, and because it is part of the British Commonwealth, Canada’s official head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. The crown appoints a Governor-General (currently David Johnston) to represent its interests in the country. The executive branch is directed by the Prime Minister (currently Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party.) The PM is designated by the Governor-General after legislative elections, and is either the leader of the majority party or a majority coalition in the House. Ministers of federal agencies and departments are chosen by the Prime Minister.
The legislative branch is embodied by the federal Parliament, which has an appointed upper house (Senate) and lower house (House of Commons.) Seats in the House are won by direct popular election.
Finally, the judicial branch is represented by the nine-member Supreme Court of Canada. The seats are apportioned by province, with three each reserved for Québec and Ontario, two seats for all the western provinces, and one for the Atlantic provinces. Judges are nominated by the Governor-General, in consultation with the Queen’s Privy Council, then with the sitting Prime Minister.
The Supreme Court is a court of last resort, and it handles appeals from courts in the Federal court system, as well as the highest courts of the provinces and territories. Individual provinces and territories also have their own appellate and superior court systems, parliaments, and premiers. Federal and provincial legal and government documents are generally available in both of the country’s official languages, English and French.
This research guide is organized according to the topics listed to the left, in the guide outline. First, it covers Canadian federal law, and then it turns to the laws of the provinces and territories of Canada. The next section contains materials designed to help legal researchers: dictionaries, guides, and indexes. After that, it covers primary sources and historical treatises, followed by newer treatises in the next section.
In the sections of the guide focusing on print materials, the "location" provides the call number for a work. Clicking on the title takes a user to the relevant entry in the catalog. Where possible, guide sections about statutes link to the appropriate law.
And please contact us if you have any questions or need further guidance.