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LAW - Starting Points - Beginning Your Canadian Legal Research

This guide is intended to help legal researchers locate Canadian sources, databases, cases, legislation and definitions. It will also help with understanding legal citation.

What are legal definitions?

In law, the definitions of words and phrases can come from different sources:

  • Legal dictionaries provide definitions of legal terms.
  • Statutory definitions are contained in an act where words and phrases have been defined in the interpretation section of the act itself. These words are defined in the legislation so the definition is established by a law.
  • Judicial definitions are contained in reported Canadian decisions where words and phrases have been defined by a court of law or the judge or judges of these courts. These definitions may also be drawn from reported Tribunal decisions.


Standard dictionaries provide plain meanings and legal dictionaries define legal terminology relating to the law of a jurisdiction. Subject specific glossaries are useful for various types of law.

Black's Law Dictionary is available on the Westlaw database. Current through the 9th edition released in October, 2010, this edition has more than 43,000 definitions, plus almost 3,000 quotations. Alternative spellings or equivalent terms and expressions are provided for more than 5,300 terms and senses, serving a thesaurus-like function. The extensive appendix on legal abbreviations is a major addition.

Online legal dictionaries and glossaries

Words and phrases judicially defined

Topical looseleafs may have a words and phrases section.

Statutory definitions

Look in the interpretation section of a statute or act for definitions of words and phrases contained in that act.

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