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Researching federal legislation

This article was written by Michael Dew, a Vancouver lawyer who practices civil litigation. Click here for contact information and further details about Michael’s practice. This article provides only information, not legal advice. If you require legal advice you should consult a lawyer.

 

Introduction
This article sets out, step by step, how to trace the history of a federal statutory provision from date X to the present, including determining whether there are currently any bills before Parliament dealing with that provision.
 
If date X is after 1985 your task will be relatively easy and you may be able to use only electronic resources. If date X is before 1985, you will probably need to refer to the paper copies of the legislation in your law library i.e. currently (October 2007) services like Quicklaw and the Canada Statute Service (from Canada Law Book) do not go back further than 1985, so paper is the only option.
 
This article explains how to research the history of the federal statute provision using mostly paper sources, but the process would be analogous if using electronic sources.
 
Why and when federal statutes are consolidated
Every few decades a consolidation of federal statutes is done. This involves taking all the statutes in the last consolidation, adding new statutes that were enacted since then, discarding statutes the that have been repealed since then, and then renumbering all of the statutes (giving them new “chapter numbers”) and provisions (get rid of all the awkward numbering that resulted when extra sections were added in to patch up problematic provisions).
 
Consolidations of federal statutes in Canada occurred in 1886, 1906, 1927, 1952, 1970, and 1985. At each of those dates all of the federal statutes were renumbered and printed in a set of hardcover books. Then, in the years following each of those consolidations, additional statutes were passed. Some of those new statutes simply added and deleted sections from the statutes existing at the previous consolidation, while others created entirely new statutes, or repealed existing statutes.
 
The general approach when researching the history of federal statutes is to break the history up into time periods according to the consolidations, and work forward from each consolidation to determine what changes were made since then.
 
Beware that provision numbers may have changed when consolidations were done – if you are having trouble determining what your provision number changed to, or was, check the table of concordance if one is available.
 
Assumptions
The approach set out below is a “moving forward in time” analysis. However, once you are familiar with the process, you may wish to research the history of your provision in reverse to save yourself the time of looking at older versions unnecessarily.
 
This article assumes that date X is 1906, and starts from there. If your date X is later, you may be able to skip some of the steps set out below.
 
Step 1: Determine the wording of the provision in 1906
Pull the 1906 consolidated statutes from the shelf of the library. Look in the table of contents to find your statute, and look up your provision.
 
Step 2: Determine what changes were made between 1906 and 1927
As explained below, for more recent years (e.g. 1970-1985), tables are available that list the changes made to the provisions of each statute between consolidations. Unfortunately, no such convenient tables are available for changes between 1906 and 1927.
 
Therefore, the best way to check for changes between 1906 and 1927 is to simply compare the wording of the statutes in 1906 and 1927 by pulling each of them from the shelf. If your date X is after 1906, but before 1927, you would obviously compare the first enactment of the statute with the 1927 version.
 
If the wording of your provision has changed between the two consolidations, look at the end of the provision in the 1927 consolidation: in small font it should list the statute that implemented the wording shown in the 1927 consolidation. Pull that statute to see what changes were made, and work your way backwards if necessary.
 
Step 3: Determine what changes were made between 1927 and 1952
As for the 1906-1927 period explained in step 2, there is no useful table to look up the changes made to the provisions of each statute for 1927-1952. Therefore, the approach for this time period is the same as for 1906-1927 as explained above.
 
Step 4: Determine what changes were made between 1952 and 1970
If you look in the hardcover book (titled “Statutes of Canada, 1968-1969, 17-18 Elizabeth II”) containing the statutes passed in 1968-1969 (just before the 1970 consolidation), you will see that it contains some yellow pages. These yellow pages contain a “Table of Public Statutes” that lists all of the changes made to the provisions of each statute for 1952-1970: look in the column labelled “Amendment in years 1907 to 1968-1969. 
 
Look up your statute in the yellow pages and see if the provision you are interested in has changed. If your provision has been changed, look up (in the yellow pages) the citation of the statute which changed the provision. Pull that statute to review what changes were made.
 
Even if the yellow pages indicate that your provision was not changed since 1952, you may still want to compare the 1952 wording to the 1970 wording to make sure that the table was accurate and did not miss any amendments that were actually implemented.
 
Step 5: Determine what changes were made between 1970 and 1985
If you look in the beige coloured hardcover book (titled “Statutes of Canada, 1984, c. 32 –61”) containing the last statute passed just before the 1985 consolidation, you will see that it contains some yellow pages. These yellow pages contain a “Table of Public Statutes” that lists all of the changes made to the provisions of each statute for 1970-1985: look in the column labelled “Amendments, new acts from Jan 1, 1970, and unconsolidated acts from 1907 to 1984”.
 
Look up your statute in the yellow pages and see if the provision you are interested in has changed. If your provision has been changed, look up (in the yellow pages) the citation of the statute which changed the provision. Pull that statute to review what changes were made. Check if that statute is in force by looking at the coming into force (CIF) data in the yellow pages.
 
Even if the yellow pages indicate that your provision was not changed since 1970, you may still want to compare the 1970 wording to the 1985 wording to make sure that the table was accurate and did not miss any amendments that were actually implemented.
 
Step 5: Determine changes since 1985
At the end of each year since 1985 the statutes from that year have been published in beige hardcover books titled “Statutes of Canada”. At the back of those books there are yellow pages that list all the changes made to the provisions of each statute since 1985. The yellow pages are normally titled “Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers”.
 
Look up your statute in the yellow pages and see if the provision you are interested in has changed. If your provision has been changed, look up (in the yellow pages) the citation of the statute which changed the provision. Pull that statute to review what changes were made. Check if that statute is in force by looking at the coming into force (CIF) data in the yellow pages.
 
An electronic version of the yellow pages for changes since 1985 is available at: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/publaw/index.html
 
By now you have updated your provision up to the end of the “last year” (of if you used the electronic version you are updated to the date stated on that webpage). What “last year” is depends on when you are reading this article. 
 
Step 5: Determine changes occurring after the end of “last year”
Look on the library shelf for a book titled “Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers updated to …”. This book will probably have a white soft cover, and all its pages will be white. This book should really have yellow pages because it contains the updated versions of the yellow pages discussed in Step 4 above.
 
Look up your statute in this book and see if the provision you are interested in has changed. Hopefully your version of this book will be new enough that it extends into the current session of parliament. You can determine the dates of the current session of parliament at http://www.parl.gc.ca.
 
[If you used the electronic version of the yellow pages (http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/publaw/index.html) you may already be updated to the current parliamentary session, in which case you can skip this step].
 
Step 6: Check for bills currently before parliament that may affect your provision
The British Columbia Courthouse Library publishes a book that is useful for looking up legislation currently being processed by Parliament. The book is titled “Canada Legislative Index”, and should be available in most major law libraries; it is in a small black binder.
 
The first page of that book will tell you which Parliamentary session it is valid for. Go to the section titled “Index by Title of Bills Introduced and Acts Affected” and see if there are any bills affecting your statute. If so, look up the bills that affect your provision under the “Bills” tab and see what progress those bills are making through parliament. Bills go through the following stages:
  1. First reading
  2. Second reading
  3. Third reading
  4. Royal assent
What stage the bill is at should be listed on the tab for your particular bill.
 
Step 7: Check if the bill deals with your particular provision
If you found at Step 6 that there are bills that deal with your statute, download a copy of the bills that affect your statute from http://www.parl.gc.ca, and see if those bills modify your provision.
 
Step 8: Determine whether the bill affecting your provision is in force.
If, at Step 6, you found that the bill affecting your statute has received royal assent, and you found at Step 7 that the bill affects your provision, you should check when the provision is in force.
 
The text of the bill itself may state that the provisions come into force on royal assent. If so, that is the end of your search.
 
If the amending legislation states that it will come into force by Order of the Governor in Council, check the “Proclamations” tab in the current edition of the Canada Legislative Index (the small black binder published by the British Columbia Courthouse Library, discussed above).
 
Other information
The website of the British Columbia Courthouse Library has a brief summary of updating federal statutes and regulations: http://www.bccls.bc.ca/cms/index.cfm?Group_ID=2645.
 
Some of the research guides listed on the Research guides page of Legaltree: http://www.legaltree.ca/node/90 also discuss researching federal legislation. 
 
Research articles :