Legal Citation Question on Indicating Jurisdiction in Case Law Citations

I have a question regarding including jurisdiction when citing a case that cites to a Quicklaw version.

Rule 3.2.10 of the McGill Guide states that “if the jurisdiction is evident from the name of any reporter, reference is made only to the level of court.”

As such, one must include the abbreviation for Ontario in the following citation since the Dominion Law Reports publish decisions from across Canada, and without the jurisdicational indication, the reader does not know which jurisdiction is involved:

McGrath v. MacLean (1979) 95 D.L.R. (3d) 144 (Ont. C.A.)

However, in the following citation, would you include the abbreviation for Ontario (note: the case and citation are fictitious):

Without: Smith v. Jones, [1999] O.J. No. 1234 (C.A.)


With: Smith v. Jones, [1999] O.J. No. 1234 (Ont. C.A.)?

I have tended to not include the jurisdictional indication, assuming that readers know that “O.J.” stands for “Ontario Judgments.”

Am I assuming too much? Technically, Rule 3.2.10 refers to “reporters” and not “reporter or database” so I assume the technically correct answer is to include the jurisdictional abbreviation in my Quicklaw example above.

What would you do?


  1. Overall, I find many of the omissions of information recommended by the Universal Citation Guide to be problematic.

    I find that the more information provided in the citation, the better. In the case of specifying jurisdiction, your audience may not be familiar with Canada’s jurisdictions, and additional information can help in such circumstances.

    Another example are abbreviations of Journals. Who, except a librarian, actually remembers all of them (or wants to look them up every time)? Provide the full journal title, always specify the volume (regardless of pagination), provide a reference to an on-line version whenever possible, don’t ever abbreviate page numbers, and your readers will be happy (and be able to find your references).

    Many of the omissions may have been prudent in typewriter days, but now appear to be obsolete.

    I have found that the University of Ottawa Law and Technology Journal citation guidelines (it appears that an excerpt of the Guide is available online) are more reader- and access- friendly, and I have adopted the style in most of my legal writing.

  2. There’s a great line from Futurama that seems to apply here: “I suppose you’re technically correct. The best kind of correct there is!”

    It never hurts to make the information explicit, especially if you are writing for an international or non-Candadian audience.

  3. A hint to the “McGill Guide correct” answer might be found in the second example in section of the Guide (6th ed.). The example there is:

    Fuentes v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1995] F.C.J. No. 206 at Para. 10 (T.D.) (QL).

    There are two quirks here.

    First, the use of the jurisdiction/court identifier “T.D.” is problematic. Assuming the reference is to the Federal Court, Trial Division, Appendix F of the guide indicates that “F.C.T.D.” should be used. Perhaps this can be extended to indicate that the jurisdiction identifier (“F.C.” here) is not required when the jurisdiction is clear from the electronic identifier.

    Second, and in any case, the Guide appears to indicate that “(QL)” should appear at the end of any such citation.

  4. I’ll be the first to actually answer your question and say that O.J. is sufficient to indicate jurisdiction as long as C.A. is noted.
    At least that’s what I do. But then what do I know.
    Do you really need to say S.C.C. for the S.C.R.? I think not.

  5. All great comments. I am embarrassed to have missed the example in McGill Guide cited by Josh but I (literally) just came back from an eye exam and am told I need glasses! Josh is also correct about the (QL) although I tend to drop that.

    I agree re setting out full title of journal although I am not always consistent in doing that.

  6. A guiding principle of citation is not to duplicate information in a citation. So I would vote for omitting the Ont. from the citation where O.J. is the QL database.

  7. For recent cases, the problem is almost always solved by including the neutral citation, e.g. 2008 ONCA 869. For many older cases, it is solved by including the CanLII citation, e.g. 1997 CanLII 1726 (ON C.A.).

  8. Melanie Bueckert

    Personally, if I cite a case from the O.J. database, I would say (C.A.), not (Ont. C.A.). However, I agree that using the neutral citation (when available) generally solves this problem. The main thing is to know your audience – if they are not familiar with Canadian citations, then perhaps providing more information would be appropriate. After all, it is just a “Guide”…

  9. Whichever you choose to do (I probably would not include the Ont.), two guiding principles:

    – cite it in such a way that other people can find the item;
    – be consistent inside the same document.

    When you are not sure how to cite something, follow these guides.

  10. I chime in with a quote from my library cataloguing instructor: “It is better to be consistent than correct”. (T. Fell, 1992 and before and after)

    Lucky for us in Alberta, our Court of Appeal has a guide for citing cases from Quicklaw and other electronic sources.

    The best part of this guide is that it includes a jurisdiction table that shows dates when neutral citation was implemented. The worst part is that a paralell print or neutral citation is required by the court. If a neutral cite is the paralell, jurisdiction is not necessary.

    For our trial courts in Alberta, we usually follow the court of appeal guideline to be consistent, and therefore correct.

  11. What does it say about Slaw’s readership that this post has garnered more comments than any I can remember in months?

    For what it’s worth, my $.02 (and in the interests of full disclosure, I am a McGill Law graduate): In Canada, the McGill Guide rule should be followed. In the Smith v. Jones example given, there is no reason to add “Ont.” next to the level of court. I think most Canadian lawyers can figure out that “O” means Ontario. As for foreign readers, well, we don’t change Canadian spelling or usage for their convenience, so this seems no different. (If the publication in which the citation appears is itself foreign, on the other hand, the citation style should follow whatever the editor’s guidelines may be.)

    A more difficult example, by the way, is citations to the old Quebec volumes of the Recueils de jurisprudence du Québec, where the standard abbreviations reflect the level of court without expressly indicating the jurisdiction (e.g. C.S., Cour supérieure; C.A., Cour d’appel, B.R., Cour du Banc de la Reine, etc.). Now strictly speaking, the jurisdiction is apparent from the name of the reporter, since at least within Canada, those abbreviations are unique to Quebec. But I would bet not one in a hundred lawyers trained outside Quebec know that, and in the absence of any “Q” in the abbreviation it’s pretty hard to guess.