Legal research guides are among the most popular items downloaded from the BC Provincial Court’s website. They explain how to find the laws and judges’ decisions that combine to make up Canadian law. But in the last 20 years, a huge variety of legal information has been added to these “primary sources” of Canadian law – it comes in the form of online blogs, podcasts, videos, wikibooks, legal newsletters, magazine columns and social media accounts.
Some of them offer useful information if you’re researching a legal issue, but others don’t. How can you tell how reliable online legal information is?
Check the country and province it applies to
There are a few things you should check before relying on legal information you find online. First, what place does the information apply to? Legal information from other countries will usually not apply to legal issues in Canada. Blogs, podcasts and videos from other countries can be interesting, informative and entertaining, but they’re rarely useful if you’re researching to prepare a case for a Canadian court.
Even if a blog or podcast is produced in Canada, check which province or territory it’s made in. Canadian criminal law is a federal matter governed by a criminal code that applies right across the country. Information from other provinces about criminal law can therefore be useful. However, courts in each province may decide criminal law issues differently until they’re resolved by the Supreme Court of Canada, so it’s important to check judicial decisions in your own province before relying on decisions from another province.
The Divorce Act also applies across Canada, but many aspects of family law are covered by provincial statutes. It’s therefore safest to use information produced in BC to learn about family law issues. The Clicklaw wikibook, J.P. Boyd on Family Law is a good source of information on family law in BC, including divorce.
Check the source
Just like everything else on the internet, there are both reliable and unreliable legal information sources online. Websites like those of the BC Courts, the BC Ministry of the Attorney General, the Legal Services Society, Courthouse Libraries BC, Clicklaw, and Peoples Law School (to name just a few) work hard to present accurate, current information. But there are websites, some appearing very professional and authoritative, that contain inaccuracies. Watch out for information sources that are one-sided, reflecting only the views of an advocacy group, or that are based on the blogger’s opinion rather than objective facts.
Before accepting a blog or podcast as reliable, check the author’s online footprint – their biographical information and social media posts can reveal a lot to help you decide whether they’re qualified to provide legal information, and whether they’re offering accurate facts.
Check the date
Canadian law is constantly changing. Statutes, the laws enacted by our federal and provincial governments, can be amended (changed) or repealed (cancelled) and replaced with different legislation. Judges’ decisions can be overturned on appeal, or affected by later decisions. It’s important to know when any legal information was written or published so you can make sure it’s still accurate.
Finding a blog, podcast or vlog
A good source of information about blogs, podcasts and vlogs (a blog on video) is the Canadian Law Blogs List at lawblogs.ca. This directory of online Canadian legal writing lists more than 500 legal blogs, organized by topic and province. It also provides the blogger’s name, enabling you to research them.
To showcase Canadian legal blogs in a light-hearted way, the Canadian Law Blogs Awards bestow “Clawbies” on outstanding blogs and podcasts that demonstrate quality writing or a strong legal voice. Every December, a small panel picks “the most engaging, thorough, entertaining, current, hard-hitting” online legal commentary from those nominated by readers/listeners/viewers. Having started in 2006 with legal blogs, the Clawbies have gradually expanded to podcasts, vlogs and beyond. This year they will consider “anything that’s online and free, short of books”. Seeing what has won a “Clawbie” can help you decide what online legal writers to read, listen to, or watch. But be aware that some offer opinions about what the law should be, while others explain what it is.
If you already have a favourite legal blog, social media account, serial column, newsletter, podcast, video, or commentary, and want to nominate it for a 2019 Clawbie, see www.clawbies.ca. #Clawbies2019 nominations are open until December 20.
Other online legal info
You’ll find legal research guides and links to judges’ decisions on this website’s Judgments and Decisions page. And there are links to statutes and information resources for BC Provincial Court traffic, criminal, family and small claims matters on Useful Links. Find videos relating to Provincial Court matters at bit.ly/PCBCYouTube.
Another way to find useful legal information is the Clicklaw/BC Provincial Court “Where do I start” guides. This collaboration between the Court and Courthouse Libraries BC provides mobile-friendly summaries of some of the most useful online sources of information about family, civil and criminal matters in Provincial Court.
Information to avoid
Don’t be fooled by websites promoting arguments that Canadian laws don’t apply unless you consent to them or that you don’t have to pay taxes. These arguments have been put forward by people seeking to make a profit and by groups calling themselves “Freemen”, “Detaxers” or “Sovereign Citizens” and other names. There are no reported decisions where these arguments have been accepted in a Canadian court.
Online information isn’t legal advice
Remember that blogs, podcasts and other online information will only explain general legal principles – legal advice from a lawyer will tell you how those general principles apply to the facts of your case. Each case is different, and consulting a lawyer is the best way to ensure that you’re fully informed about the law that applies to your specific situation. Find ways to get legal advice, including low cost or free services for people who qualify, at Finding a Lawyer or Legal Advice.