Legal Citation Guide, Part 3

... Continued from Legal Citation Guide, Part 2 (see, also, Part 1) ....


Often you will need to refer to legislation in your legal writing. Citation of statutes and regulations is very straightforward and will take the following form:

short title, abbreviation for the volume, chapter number, section number

This is how a typical citation of a statute or regulation will appear:

Fewer Politicians Act, S.O. 1996, c. 28

Let's break it down.

Short Title

Most statutes have lengthy titles; to save time and space the "short title" is acceptable for citation purposes.

This title is easy to find at either the beginning or end of the act and will be prefaced by the words, "This act may be cited as". Use the short title designated and remember to italicize it.

Volume Title Abbreviation

♦ Revised Statutes or Regulations: Periodically the federal and provincial governments publish consolidations of all the statutes or regulations in force in their respective jurisdictions as of a particular date. These are referred to as the Revised Statutes or the Revised Regulations and are cited as follows:

  • R.S.O. 1990 ­ stands for the Revised Statutes of Ontario; and
  • 1990 R.S.C. 1985 ­ stands for the Revised Statutes of Canada 1985.

Two examples:

  • Employment Standards Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.14
  • Canada Elections Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-2

♦ Annual statutes: Between the publication of Revised Statutes, annual statute volumes are published. These contain both new and amending statutes which have received Royal Assent during the past year. These updates are cited as follows:

  • S.O. 1991 (Statutes of Ontario 1991)
  • S.C. 1991 (Statutes of Canada 1991)

An example (note that the year is included with the volume title abbreviation):

Arbitration Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 17

Chapter Number

This element of the citation refers to the specific chapter number which the statute has been assigned in the volume.

Section Number

If necessary, include a reference to the section(s) of the statute you are discussing. This is known as a "pinpoint reference".

Some provinces also publish statutes in loose-leaf format. Often the loose-leaf version does not have official status.

Sessional volumes: In the past, bound volumes of Federal and Ontario statutes were published at the end of each legislative session, rather than on a calendar year basis.

Citing Revised Statutes Which Have Been Amended

It is only necessary to include a reference to an amending statute in the citation if it is relevant to a point being discussed. To include an amending statute, cite the original statute first, followed by "as am. by" and the citation of the new act. Include the name of the amending statute only if it differs from the original act. Examples:

Employment Standards Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.14, as am. by S.O. 1991, c. 16 and S.O. 1991, c. 43, s. 2

This citation refers to the Employment Standards Act, chapter E.14 which has been amended by two different 1991 statutes, chapter 16 and chapter 43, s. 2.

Hay and Straw Inspection Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. H-2, as am. by S.C. 1994, c.38

This citation is referring to federal legislation, the Hay and Straw Inspection Act, chapter H-2 in the 1985 revised statutes, which has been amended by chapter 38 of the 1994 statutes.

Citing Regulations

Regulations are passed under the authority of a particular statute at either the federal or provincial level. An example of a federal regulation:

Competition Tribunal Rules, SOR/87-373

SOR is the abbreviation for Federal "Statutory Orders and Regulations", followed by the last two digits of the year number in which it was passed and the regulation number.

An example of a provincial regulation:

O. Reg. 45/91

When citing an Ontario regulation, the regulation number is listed first followed by the last two digits of the year in which the regulation was passed. These citations do not include the name of the regulation, so it is imperative to refer to the Act the regulation was made under to provide context for the citation. For example, one might include in the text a comment such as: Regulation 45, made under the Ontario Drug Benefit Act.


When citing statutes and regulations, a pinpoint reference will refer to a specific section number within the legislation. The pinpoint appears at the end of the citation. Consider the following examples:

  • Judges Act, R.S.C. 1985, c.J-1, s.4
  • Indian Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. I-5, ss.10(a), 12, 17-20

Note that "section" is abbreviated to "s." and "sections" is abbreviated to "ss." Unlike books and journal articles, there is no "at."



As with legal publication, citing books and journal literature also requires care and attention to detail. Locating such a secondary source may be just as important to the reader as finding a case or piece of legislation. A proper legal book citation conforms to the following standard:

name of author, title, edition statement, place of publication, publisher, year of publication

This is how a typical book citation will appear:

S.M. Waddams, The Law of Contracts, 3d ed. (Toronto: Canada Law Book, 1993)

  • Citation Breakdown:
  • Author's Name: Initial(s) or first name, then last name
  • Book Title: The title is always in italics (or underlined)
  • Edition Number: Include if this is not the first edition (note that 2d and 3d are used, not 2nd and 3rd)
  • Place of Publication: The city name is followed by a colon and contained in parentheses along with the publisher name and year of publication
  • Publisher
  • Year of Publication: Note that all book citations are concluded with a period. For example:
    W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, 2d ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 1985).

Journal Articles

The formula for citing law journal articles is similar to citing books:

author's name, title of article, year, volume and issue number, journal or review, page number

Typical citation of a law journal article:

P. Hughes, "Women, Sexual Abuse by Professionals, and the Law: Changing Parameters" (1996) 21 Queen's L.J. 297.

Citation Breakdown:

  • Author's Name: initial(s) or first name then last name followed by a comma.
  • Article Title: the title of the article is placed in quotation marks.
  • Year: the year is always contained in round brackets
  • Volume and Issue Number: only include the issue number if the page numbers restart at "1" for each issue. If using an issue number, it follows the volume number with a colon, e.g. 25:4 (volume 25, issue 4).
  • Journal or Review: use the proper abbreviation for the journal. Refer to the McGill Guide Appendix D for a list of periodical abbreviations. For more information, consult the section on Finding Abbreviations for Law Reports and Journals.
  • Page Number: this number refers to the first page of the article within the journal. For example:
    P. Monture, "A Vicious Circle: Child Welfare and the First Nations" (1989) 3 C.J.W.L. 1.


Pinpoint to a page or section. See the following examples:


  • P.W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 1985) at 73.
  • R.J. Delisle, Evidence: Principles and Problems (Toronto: Carswell, 1984) at 129.

Journal Article

  • M.G. Bridge, "Discharge for Breach of the Contract of Sale of Goods" (1985) 28 McGill L.J. 867 at 913.

Citing Internet Documents

Cite to the traditional citation - whether it is an article, a government document, etc. - followed by a comma, "online:", the name of the website, and the URL. For example:

Polly Donda-Kaplan & Natasha Bakht, The Application of Religious Law in Family Law Arbitration Across Canada, online: Women's Legal Education and Action Fund <>


Sometimes you need to find what a particular abbreviation stands for in order to track down the reporter or journal, and other times, you might want to cite something but not be sure of the correct abbreviation to use.

When in doubt, consult the following:

  • Legal Citations (at
  • Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 6th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2006).
  • Canadian Abridgment - note that there is a list of abbreviations at the front of each volume.
  • British: Donald Raistrick, Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations, 3d ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1993).
  • Mary Miles Prince, Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations, 5th ed. (Buffalo: W.S. Hein, 2001).

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This was Part 3 of 3 of the Legal Citation Guide. See also Part 1 and Part 2.

REFERENCES: and Lloyd Duhaime wish to acknowledge and thank the Lederman Law Library, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario (Canada), for permission to use significant portions of their 2009 article Legal Citation, to construct the above Legal Citation Guide, on this website, in all its several parts.