Ontario Legislation – Legislation


Government-made law is referred to as legislation. Bills, statutes, regulations and by-laws all fall under this heading. Legislation is a primary source of law and is binding on the courts and adjudicative bodies where it applies. It will even displace case law, another primary source of law, if the two conflict.Legislative research is therefore a crucial part of your research plan.

Legislative Research

Recall that there are five main research steps to legislative research: determining jurisdiction; determining the relevant legislation; confirming a statute or regulation has come into force; locating the statute or regulation; and updating and "noting up” the statute or regulation.

Research Step One: Determine Jurisdiction

When researching legislation, the first step is to identify which government has jurisdiction over the area you are investigating. If you have already located potentially applicable legislation, the first step is to determine whether the bill, statute, or regulation in question is federal or provincial.

Making the federal-provincial distinction at the outset will drive your research in the right direction, prevent gaps in your findings, and ensure you do not investigate legislation which does not even apply to your research question.

Research Step Two: Determine the relevant legislation

The next step is to figure out the particular legislation which governs your legal question. The problem may specify the relevant bill, statute, regulation or bylaw. In most cases, however, determining the applicable legislation through the use of keyword searches in electronic databases and by consulting secondary sources will be an integral part of your research.

Research Step Three: Confirm a statute or regulation has come into force

A statute or regulation will, of course, be irrelevant to your research if it is not a governing piece of legislation. Confirming that a statute or regulation has come into force and is legally binding is therefore an essential skill.

With respect to regulations, you must confirm that a regulation has been issued. As well, a regulation only becomes effective once it is deposited with the relevant government office, and this date is normally specified in the regulation itself.

With very new statutes, it is necessary to confirm that a bill has completed the entire legislative process. Furthermore, even though a statute has completed the legislative process and received Royal Assent, it may not actually be in effect yet. It could have a delayed "coming into force” date or indicate it will be proclaimed into force at some point in the future. Delayed coming into force dates are generally employed to allow for preparations and special arrangements necessary for the proper enforcement of the law.

Confirming this information is therefore an essential stage in your research. While this step may not be as necessary for older and established laws, it is critical when dealing with more recently enacted or issued pieces of legislation.

Research Step Four: Locate the statute or regulation

It is fairly easy to locate legislation if you have either its title or citation. It is as simple as entering the statute title or citation into a search field or browsing an alphabetical listing. There are various print and electronic resources available for locating the full text of the statute or regulation you are researching. Locate the text of the statute or regulation so that you may review it in greater detail and fully assess whether it is applicable to your legal problem.

Research Step Five: Update and "note up” the statute or regulation

Once you have located a relevant statute, you must then update and "note up” the statute or regulation. This means finding out whether the statute has been amended, the regulation revoked and if either have been the subject of judicial treatment (or interpretation). There is nothing worse than relying on an outdated piece of legislation! Not only can it be embarrassing, but it shows a lack of in-depth research and proper preparation. It may also point you to a completely incorrect answer for your legal question!

Tips for Legislative Research

(See: Maureen Fitzgerald, "Chapter 7: How to Find and Update Statutes” in Legal Problem Solving: Reasoning, Research & Writing, 3d ed. (Toronto: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2004) at 111.)