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Legal Research: Start Searching

A starting point for legal research.

Search Discovery

Discovery is the Library's one-search experience. Find articles, books, films, music and more!

Start your research here.


Learn more about Discovery with these video tutorials:

Best Databases

Suggested Subject Searches

Search the library catalogue for books and audiovisual materials. Enter the Subject Heading Law - Canada or other legal terms you are studying. These legal headings may be followed by subheadings that describe the specific legal topic you are researching. Other worthwhile subject headings are:

Research Tips

Before You Begin - A Checklist

To successfully find information you will need:

  • a well-defined topic
  • a keyword list with at least 3-4 main keywords to use in your search
  • a list of questions to answer or an "information wishlist"
  • an understanding of the kind of items you hope to find (academic? media? reports?)
  • places to search (see below)



 Use "quotation marks" for exact-phrase searching
  • "video games"
  • "British Columbia
  • "freedom of the press"
  • "needle exchange"
Search for keywords within specific fields - use the drop-down list beside the search box.
  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Subject
  • Source Title
 Use suggested topics, subjects and thesaurus terms for more refined searching  
 Use the available limiter options (left side of results page)
  • Full text only (excludes books)
  • Peer-reviewed Articles (excludes books)
  • by Date
  • by Format
  • by Subject
  • by Geography
Use narrower keywords
  • video games > first person shooters
  • safe-injection sites > Insite
  • Vancouver > Hastings Street, Downtown Eastside
Check Catalogue Only to find just books, ebooks and media  



 Use "or" to look for versions of the same concept (synonyms, related words)
  • child or youth or teen
  • safe-injection or "needle exchange" or Insite
  • Vancouver or BC or "British Columbia" or "Lower Mainland"
  Use * [shift+8] after a word's root to search all endings
  • Canad* = Canada, Canadian, Canadians, Canadiana
  • "video gam*" = video game, video games, video gaming
  Use broader keywords
  • video games < media < entertainment
  • safe-injection < harm reduction policies < drug addiction
Uncheck “available in CapU Collection” in Discovery
If you find an item we don't have, get it via interlibrary loan.


Video Tutorial - Basic Search in Discovery

Video Tutorial - Finding Books with Discovery

What are Call Numbers?

Photo by Flickr User JenWaller


Each library book has a spine label with an alphanumeric call number. The call number is not just the book's "address", it also signifies what the book is about.

Books about similar topics are shelved together. For example:

  • Psychology books start with BF
  • Psychiatry books are in RC 321-571

You've found your book on the shelf. Here is another opportunity to find more books! Take a look at the ones shelved nearby, they may cover similar topics to the book in your hand.

Remember, we may also carry many ebooks on your topic - you'll find those online via keyword or subject search.

Many CapU Library online resources (databases, electronic books) want to authenticate you to ensure you're a CapU student before giving you access. When you try to access these resources off-campus, and occasionally when you are on campus, this screen will appear:

Just enter your CapU Network ID:

username: firstnamelastname
password: CapU password

Forgot your password?

If you are asked to log in to a page that doesn't have the CapU logo, something has gone wrong. Contact us to help sort it out.

There is no charge to bring in any article or book from outside CapU Library.

Remember to plan ahead - it can take a few days or a few weeks to get your item, depending on availability.

Visit the Interlibrary Loan information page for details.

Did you know you have borrowing privileges at other universities? 
Visit the Library Services counter to get a reciprocal borrowing card and start taking books out from UBC LIbraries, SFU Library and more!

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The Basics

Statutory or case law?

There are two primary categories of law:  Statutory Law and Case Law

Statutory law consists of the statutes created by legislatures. Case law is the process whereby legal disputes are decided by judges.

Statutes and Regulations

The Canadian legal system uses both legislation made by governments and cases decided by judges as sources of law. There is a special law called the Criminal Code for serious offences such as theft, assault, homicide, etc. All of the other laws are civil law, and deal with topics such as contracts, divorce, wills, etc.

Legislation includes laws, also referred to as acts or statutes, that are passed by either the federal parliament or a provincial legislature, and regulations, sometimes called secondary or delegated legislation. Regulations are made under the authority of a 'parent' act, and there may be several sets of regulations under one act.

Types of Law

Federal or Provincial? The Canadian Constitution divides areas of activity between the federal and provincial government. Some of these areas are exclusive - for example, the postal service is a federal area of activity, while education is a provincial matter. Some areas overlap, so that both levels of government may make laws and policies. The environment is an example of an area of dual jurisdiction.

It is essential that you determine whether the laws that deal with your legal problem are federal or provincial. This information is usually given in textbooks and legal encyclopedias. Provincial and federal government web sites usually contain online versions of statutes and public case law that emanate from the jurisdiction. Most of these online sources can be searched by subject or by the name of the act or law you want. 

Public or private? Laws or statutes (as well as bills) are categorized as "public" if the law is one that applies to everyone, for example, the Criminal Code. These are laws "of general application". Laws can also be "private", meaning they apply to a specific person, place, or corporation. For example, city charters are often provincial statutes, but only apply to the specific city. If you cannot find an act that you know exists, it may be because it is a "private" act so you need to look in a slightly different place.

In general, legislation passed during a calendar year is published in that year's statute volume, with the acts being numbered sequentially 1, 2, 3, etc. as chapters. Typically the public statutes are first, and any private statutes appear later in the volume.

What does peer-reviewed mean?

Peer-reviewed is the highest level of academic or scholarly publishing. The quality of the articles is maintained through a review process conducted by experts prior to publication. Not all academic journals are peer-reviewed, but all peer-reviewed journals are academic.

Articles submitted to a refereed or peer-reviewed journal are examined by one or more people with expertise in the field with which the article deals. This process gives the scholartic community assurance that the information in the article is credible and original. Some disciplines require peer-reviewed status more than others.

How can I tell if a journal is scholarly or not?