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Je ne parle pas français: Tips for finding English versions of French language case law

Few things are more frustrating than finding your “golden case”—the case that will answer all your questions, solve all your problems and surely render opposing counsel speechless—only to realize you cannot understand a word of it because it’s been reported in French (and, well, you don’t speak French). While the search for English translations of case law reported in French is not entirely hopeless, it can be a challenge.

Unless the decision has been reported in an official court reporter or published in a bilingual jurisdiction, it is most likely the decision has only been reported in the language in which it was argued. Nevertheless, there are several pathways to take before admitting defeat.

To double-check if there is a translated version of a Canadian decision, search by style of clause (name of the case) on:

  • Lexis Advance Quicklaw
  • WestlawNext Canada
  • CanLII

If these resources do possess a translated version of the case in question, you’ll see an “English” link on the French case, or you’ll notice the case is shown as being reported twice in the same database (one in English, the other in French).

Another source worth consulting is SOQUIJ, the body that publishes Quebec judicial and administrative tribunal decisions.  Although limited in scope, its free database of Translated Decisions offers unofficial English translations of selected decisions from the Quebec Court of Appeal, Quebec Superior Court, Court of Quebec, Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, Quebec Professions Tribunal, the Ministère de la Justice of Quebec and the Financial Markets Administrative Tribunal.

Lastly, some of us at the Great Library have had luck searching for translated versions of cases by using CanLII on Google Chrome. When using CanLII and Google Chrome in tandem, a pop-up window which reads, “Translate this page?” appears. After clicking the “Translate” button, an unofficial English translation of the French case is presented.

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Primer, please

For those diving into new and unfamiliar areas of law, tackling often sizable and complex loose-leaf sources can feel like an intimidating task. While loose-leaf materials are a vital tool within the arsenal of the effective legal researcher, working with these materials may prove more manageable if you first develop a certain degree of context. When seeking materials that provide foundational information in legal research, primer materials can save the day.

Continuing Professional Development materials

While CPD/CLE materials can offer informative updates of very specific legal issues, they can also acts as refreshers or introductory overviews of major legal topics in a given field. For example, the library has access to program materials like the Ontario Bar Association’s Construction Law Primer and the Law Society of Ontario’s Real Estate Refresher 2018 which both pull together articles that highlight some core issues and topics of their respective fields. Full-text CPD papers from Law Society programs since 2004 are available free on AccessCLE.

Introductory texts

When searching for primer material in legal texts, it can be useful to keep an eye out for particular publishers. For instance, both Emond Publishing and Irwin Law produce collections of texts meant to showcase the core concepts of an area of law with succinct summaries and analyses. While Emond publishes collections, such as the Working with the Law series, that cater to the legal professional and researcher with a practical and accessible approach to law, Irwin Law has developed the Essentials of Canadian Law Series which provides informed and authoritative analyses of Canadian law useful to both the student and practitioner. Some examples that can be found in our collection include: Charter Remedies in Criminal Cases: A Practitioner’s Handbook and Securities Law.

And Don’t Forget…

You can always rely on Halsbury’s Laws of Canada and Canadian Encyclopedic Digest to provide succinct overviews of a wide range of legal topics. Access these materials online or in print at the Great Library.

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Prohibited Pets and Where to Find Them – Researching Municipal By-laws

Can my neighbour keep ferrets as pets, and if so how many? This question about what animals are permitted as pets in the City of Toronto recently led us into the world of municipal by-law research.

The City of Toronto website provides three great tools for this type of research:

  1. City of Toronto Municipal Code

The Code is an updated compilation of by-laws, divided into 3 parts – Administrative, General and Traffic and Parking By-laws, each organized by subject specific chapters.

You can browse the Code by chapter/subject, or use the separate search function. The table of contents includes links to any recent amendments made to a Code chapter since the last update.

(A quick note about scope – the Code contains administrative by-laws and by-laws that have general application to people and places across the City of Toronto, but it doesn’t include by-laws from decisions about specific people, places or things.)

  1. City of Toronto By-laws

Annual by-laws made by the City of Toronto are available from the current year back to 1998 (the year of municipal amalgamation in Ontario). You can browse this collection by year or by-law number, or use the keyword search function.

  1. By-law Status Registry

The Registry includes the history and status of by-laws, including older by-laws (many of which are still in force today) from the former municipalities of Toronto, Metropolitan Toronto, East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough and York back to 1834.

Now, back to the ferrets… our research in the City of Toronto Municipal Code led us to Chapter 349, Animals which sets out the rules for keeping and caring for animals in the city. The by-law also provides a long list of Prohibited Animals (Schedule A). We found that ferrets fall under the family of Mustelidae, a grouping of carnivorous mammals that also includes skunks, weasels, otters and badgers.  Ferrets are however specifically exempted in the Schedule.

While it appears ferrets are safe to keep as pets, we noted that a significant portion of the animal kingdom is not; residents are prohibited from keeping anteaters, elephants, fruit bats, hyenas, penguins, sloths and wallabies, to name a few. Interestingly, snakes are fine as long as they reach an adult length under 3 metres.

There is no mention of maximum ferret numbers per dwelling unit in Chapter 349 of the Code (although § 349-5 restricts the number of dogs to three and cats to six). Searching the City of Toronto annual by-laws, we found an earlier by-law (28-1999) which did provide that “no person shall keep in any dwelling unit more than six (6) of any combination of dogs, cats, ferrets and rabbits…” However checking in the By-law Status Registry confirmed that Chapter 349 of the Code superseded the earlier by-law.

Here are some other useful resources to assist with basic by-law research:

About Bills, By-laws and the Municipal Code – FAQs

By-law and Toronto Municipal Code Services – for questions and to obtain certified copies of by-laws

By-law Digitization Program – on-going scanning project of pre-1998 by-laws passed by the Toronto and former municipalities (Copies of by-laws not yet scanned can be requested from the City of Toronto Archives.)

A Brief History of Zoning Bylaws in Toronto, Toronto Reference Library Blog, Dec. 14, 2015

Rogers, The Law of Canadian Municipal Corporations (Thomson Reuters loose leaf) KF 5305 R63 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor; also available on Proview – Chapter IX, By-laws provides background and commentary on drafting, enacting, enforcing, and repealing by-laws

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New Books for the New Year

Here’s a selection of new books in our collection – covering current issues from cannabis and liquor laws to expert witnesses and family arbitration:

Cannabis Law by MacFarlane et al. HV 5840 .C36 M34 2018 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor & 1st Floor.

  • This item, which claims to be “the first of its kind”, acts as a guide with which readers can navigate the plethora of uncharted legal issues newly relevant with the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada.

Charter Remedies in Criminal Cases: A Practitioner’s Handbook by Asma & Gourlay. KF 9655 A84 2019 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

  • The latest title in the Criminal Law Series covers breaches and remedies, as well as issues such as police misconduct and exclusion of evidence, from both defence and Crown perspectives. Includes checklists and ample case references.

Government Lawyering: Duties and Ethical Challenges of Government Lawyers by Sanderson. KF 299 .G6 S25 2018 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

  • This new text fills a major gap in the literature by explaining and analysing the unique ethical and practice issues facing lawyers working for the Crown.

Impaired Driving and Other Criminal Code Driving Offences: A Practitioner’s Handbook by Jokinen and Keen. KF 2231 J65 2019 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

  • With the repeal and replacement of all driving provisions of the Criminal Code in 2018, this item acts as a comprehensive handbook that analyzes and contextualizes the new provisions of the legislation replete with case law, strategy, and advice.

Liquor Laws of Canada by Bourgeois. KF 3919 B69 2018 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

  • This text serves as a comprehensive primer to the laws governing the regulation, manufacturing, distribution, selling and consumption of liquor across Canada while providing constitutional and economic context to Canadian liquor law.

Other recent additions to our Canadian Practice Collection:

The Expert Accountant in Civil Litigation, 2nd ed., by McAuley. KF 8968.15 Z53 2018 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

A Guide to Family Arbitration in Ontario by Grant and Preston. KF 505 .ZB3 G73 2018 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

Ontario Residential Real Estate for Practitioners by Wolf. KF 665 W65 2019 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

Quasi-Constitutional Laws of Canada by Helis. KF 425 H45 2018 / 1st Floor.

Witness Preparation: A Practical Guide, 4th ed., by Finlay et al. KF 8950 F56 2018 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor.

 and to our Circulating Collection:

The Class Actions Controversy: The Origins and Development of the Ontario Class Proceedings Act by Chiodo. KF 8896 C45 2018 / Circulating Collection, 2nd Floor.

A History of Law in Canada, Volume One: Beginnings to 1866 by Girard et al. KF 345 G57 2018 / Circulating Collection, 2nd Floor.

Truth and Conviction: Donald Marshall Jr. and the Mi’kmaw Quest for Justice by McMillan. KF 8205 M36 2018 / Circulating Collection, 2nd Floor.


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Here Comes Santa Claus(e)

As the Great Library’s staff heads off to spend the holidays with family and friends, and the doors close for the year, I can sneak in this guest post unobserved, like a night-time intruder in a chimney flue.  As visions of sugar plums dance in my head, I can’t help wonder if the AI in legal publishing research databases dreams of Santa.  Or if it’s not quite clear on the concept.  Sometimes Santa’s little legal research helpers need a bit of guidance.

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