Search Multiple Sources

Today’s Tip comes from Melanie Bueckert, Legal Research Counsel, Manitoba Court of Appeal. Melanie shared a story about looking for citing cases:

I wanted to know if the Supreme Court of Canada had ever cited its decision in F.H. v McDougall, 2008 SCC 53. So I headed over to Quicklaw, pulled up the QuickCite record and filtered it by “Supreme Court of Canada”. There was one result from 2011.

Just to be thorough, I thought I would check Westlaw to see if there was anything more recent. This is not an easy task, as you likely know. I found the KeyCite record all right (though it only contained 574 results, rather than the 1400+ on QL), but didn’t find any easy way to just display the SCC results. You can use the locate feature to filter by jurisdiction (though it wasn’t clear to me which jurisdiction I should choose to capture SCC results) or by document type (‘highest courts’ still left 86 results, as it included all appellate courts). In the end, I reviewed all 574 results only to find that no SCC cases were listed (not even the one I found in QL).

So I got frustrated and thought I would try my luck with CanLII. They showed a similar number of cases in the reflex record, but again it was a struggle to get the results to filter by court. You can select individual databases from the reflex record page, but if you’re using Internet Explorer you also need to include some text in one of the search boxes (like the case citation in the full text search box) in order to get the search to work. Finally it did – and returned the one result I had already found in QL.

So I guess the upshot is that it can be tricky to easily filter judicial consideration of cases by jurisdiction or court. I worry about folks relying solely on Westlaw as it would appear that the KeyCite records, even for Supreme Court of Canada consideration of their own cases, are not particularly up-to-date. It was especially disconcerting because McDougall was listed in the Authorities link for the case that mentioned it (2012 SCC 3). I guess the work-around would be to run a full-text search of the case name or citation in an SCC judgments database, but those types of searches make me nervous about missing something.

Like Melanie, I feel strongly that searching for judicial consideration should be done with more than one tool. Thanks for sharing this tip!


  1. It’s surprising that those filters do not exist yet. In this instance a keyword search would be easier. In CanLII if you narrow to SCC cases, then search for the phrase “2008 SCC 53” you get F.H. and the one citing decision. Effective, but a work-around.

  2. I so agree with you both, Shaunna and Melanie!
    For our HeadStart program one year, I was putting together an example of finding judicial consideration for a federal statute section, comparing the results from CanLII, Westlaw, and QL. My Westlaw results seemed out of whack: much lower than what I expected, compared to the other two. When I checked against the print Statutes Judicially Considered, it was clear that the electronic results were missing a chunk of years. When I contacted WL, it turned out there was an issue and the database needed to be re-indexed. They were happy to hear from me, since no one had reported the issue yet. As well, all three services had different results, with some decisions captured by their competitors and others not. Checking the most recent results, it was clear that each database had missed at least one relevant case.
    Lessons: You should be aware that even a great database can have its tech gremlins on a day-to-day basis: if something seems off, call the vendor. And, there is no substitute for your own mind. Use all the tools at your disposal. (And a big shout out to free CanLII – which gets better and deeper as time goes by! I’m a fan.)

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