The information below applies mainly to those located in Calgary, Alberta. However, similar resources are likely available in your city and province/state.
If you need legal advice, there is a lot of free legal information available. But you have to know where to look. These free resources might not have all the answers, but they can start you off in the right direction.
Your own research can give you a good general idea of your rights and whether it is worthwhile to pursue a claim. For a definite answer you’ll eventually want to speak with a lawyer. Fortunately, many lawyers offer a free initial consultation.
Free Online Databases
You can research Canadian case law and legislation for free using www.canlii.org. To narrow your search, select your province. Then select what type of information you’re looking for — legislation, courts, or boards and tribunals. You can further narrow your search to decisions/legislation only from the past few years.
If you have been in a motor vehicle accident, the relevant legislation will be the Traffic Safety Act and the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation.
If you have been in a slip and fall accident, the relevant legislation will be the Occupiers’ Liability Act.
If you’ve suffered a dog bite, the relevant legislation is the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Paid Online Databases
There are two main paid legal databases — Westlaw and Quicklaw. These databases are similar to CanLII in that they let you find case law and legislation. But they have advantages. They have additional commentary, they cover more cases than CanLII, and they do a better job of tracking how court decisions have been followed or not followed in subsequent court decisions.
You can get free access to Westlaw and Quicklaw at the law library located on the fifth floor of the Calgary Courts Centre (601 – 5 Street SW).
As mentioned above, you can access legal databases at the courthouse law library. You can also research specific legal issues at the law library by perusing books on the topic. For example, a book on occupiers’ liability will discuss the leading cases in that area of law and give you an idea of how the law has been applied to different situations.
Members of the public cannot sign out books from the law library, but you can photocopy relevant pages (for a fee). Another great option is to use the photocopier to scan the pages you want and have them e-mailed to you — there is no charge for this service.
Public libraries are great for providing free Internet access and the opportunity to print what you find online. Their books may be of limited value, however, when it comes to legal research. Often they will cover law for other jurisdictions or they will be out of date. But you might find a good overview of a particular area of law that will provide a good starting point for your research.
Law Information Centre (LInC)
For general information you can contact or visit a Law Information Centre. One is located on the main floor of the Calgary Courts Centre.
The staff at LInC can give you information about civil and criminal matters. They can explain court procedures and tell you how to fill out forms. But they cannot give legal advice.
Legal Aid can provide you with legal advice and representation if you meet the income eligibility criteria. Even if you don’t qualify, you can visit one of their locations for helpful brochures about the court process and your legal rights.
There are a lot of good legal blogs out there. The best ones tend to be by lawyers/firms who specialize in a particular area of law. Be wary of blogs maintained by special interest groups and individuals with an axe to grind. Their positions, though sincere and well intended, can cause them to have a skewed view of the law.
The above resources can help you find many of the answers you need regarding your legal rights.