Legal Research Survival Guide, Part 6 —Help with Hansard

In our previous Survival Guide posts, we’ve covered planning your research and getting off to a quick productive start with research guides, current legal texts and CPD papers. This week we’re continuing with some practical tips for conducting effective statutory research, using Hansard.

Don’t miss the other Survival Guide posts

Hansard is the term commonly used for the record of the debates of Parliament and provincial and territorial legislatures. It is a key resource for research into statutory interpretation, helping to shed light on the context and intent of legislative changes.

Hansard research can however be confusing and time-consuming. So here some useful preliminary steps to help you clarify and focus your Hansard search before you dive in:

  1. Identify the statute section(s) of interest

Don’t make your job harder than it needs to be! While there are times when an entire statute may be relevant to your research, quite often you’re really only interested in the legislative intent behind changes to specific provisions. Identify those sections using the current consolidated version of the statute. This will make the next stages of your research more efficient.

  1. Trace your section(s) back

Once you’ve identified the section(s) for which you want to find legislative intent, you’ll need to then trace the section(s) back to the point at which a relevant change was made by amending legislation, or to the point at which the section was first introduced. To do so, use the source (historic) notes included at the end of your section(s) in the current consolidated version of the statute. For a primer on how to read statutory source notes, see Following the Breadcrumbs: Source Notes and How to Use.

  1. Identify the bill number, parliament and session

Once you’ve located the amending or original statute of interest, you’ll need to find the corresponding bill number because Hansard deals with bills not statutes.

It’s also important to take note of the year, the parliament or legislature and the session number for your bill so you can search the correct Hansards. For example, knowing you’re looking for debate on Bill C-20 is not enough. You’ll need to know it’s the Bill C-20 from the 36th Parliament, 1st Session (1997-1999), not Bill C-20 from 35th Parliament, 2nd Session (1996-1997).

You can find bill numbers, parliament and session information on LEGISInfo (federal bills) and the Ontario Legislative Assembly website, as well as in the official annual print volumes of the Ontario and Federal statutes.

  1. Use the indexes

At this point, you have all the information you need to locate the correct Hansard volumes. Select the index for the parliament/legislature and session you need, and look up the bill number or name to find the pages numbers where debate at each stage (reading) of the bill’s legislative process can be found. (Page numbers in online versions of debate indexes are typically direct links into the full-text of Hansard.)

When searching Hansard online, you can use Ctrl-F or available keyword search boxes to get to the points in Hansard where your bill is mentioned. However, relying on Hansard indexes will give you a more complete and clearer picture of your research path.

Need to find Hansards online? Look to our blog posts Finding Hansard Online: Canada and Ontario and Ontario Hansard Then and Now for pointers.

And there you have it. While each bill is unique and the road to finding information on legislative intent may not always be straightforward, you can depend on the framework described above to guide you to the Hansards you need—just as you can depend on the library staff to help you along the way. Be sure to come to the Reference Office, or contact us through Ask a Law Librarian if you have any questions.