How Do I Find the Laws That Concern My Legal Problem?

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Finding and reading applicable laws can help you understand your legal situation. This section gives you an overview of how to find legislation and use it for your own situation.

Legislation refers to the laws passed by governmental legislative bodies, such as the Legislative Assembly of BC. A legislative law is also referred to as an act or a statute. Regulations are rules or laws, made under the authority of a specific statute, and are also considered legislation. Regulations may include information about fees, procedures and forms. An example is the Hunting License Regulation under the BC Wildlife Act.

Searching for the law on a specific topic

Our law comes from legislation and also from decisions made by the courts, known as case law (outlined in How the Law Works in Canada). Because our law comes from more than one source, it can be tricky to find the law that applies to a specific subject area.

For example, you may want to see the law about child support. This is complicated because a federal act, provincial act, and federal regulation all cover this topic. There are also many variables discussed in case law. This means it’s not possible to look at one law and know everything that applies to child support issues. And this is why when you’re looking for the law on a specific area, it’s best to look at secondary resources first because they will describe any relevant legislation as well as suggest sources of further help. See the section in this guide Secondary Resources and How to Find Them.

Searching for a known law

You will generally want to find the most up-to-date laws, which are available on the site BC Laws for BC legislation, and Justice Laws for federal legislation.

To search for a current law on BC Laws:

  • Go to BC Laws.
  • Click on Laws of British Columbia.
  • Click on the first letter of the act you’re looking for, e.g. "E" for Employment Standards Act.
  • Now you can look at the act, some of the regulations and past versions of the act.

To search for a current federal law:

  • Go to Justice Laws.
  • Use the Search Box on the front page to find the law, or check "Frequently Accessed Acts" and "Frequently Accessed Regulations."
  • If you cannot find the law you are looking for, click on "Basic search" in the menu on the left and use a keyword.

Finding a law as it read on a certain date

You might need to see what the law was at a certain point in time. For example, if you need to see how the Strata Property Act looked in 2012 when you bought your condominium, you can go to the CanLII site.

At CanLII, select "British Columbia." Look under "Legislation" and select "Statutes and Regulations".

  • Click on the first letter of the act you’re looking for, e.g. "S" for Strata Property Act.
  • Now you can look at the act, some of the regulations, and past versions of the act. You will find the version of the act that was in force in 2012.

If you are having trouble finding older versions of laws, you can contact Courthouse Libraries BC for help.

To find municipal bylaws, go to your municipal website or Legaltree – BC Bylaws.

You can get copies of Indian band by-laws by contacting the band office. For self-governing First Nations, check their website, such as Tsawwassen and Nisga’a.

How to read a statute

Statutes usually follow the same structure:

  • Table of Contents – you can see at a glance the main headings and scope of the act. Online versions have links to each section of the act.
  • Definitions – these are usually at the beginning of the act or at the beginning of each section in a long act. They will help you understand how the act uses certain words. Different acts may use different definitions for the same term.
  • Body of the act – here you will find the main contents of the act. Lengthy acts are divided into parts and divisions.
  • Other important information that acts may contain include:
    • which government ministry or body is responsible for administering the act and regulations,
    • how to appeal, and
    • date of "in force" or when the act comes into effect.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Courthouse Libraries BC staff, October 2015.

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