The McGill Guide and Electronic Resources

The eighth edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (“McGill Guide”) was published in May. The new edition does not make any changes quite as dramatic as in the previous edition; if you were reading SLAW four years ago, you may remember there was a strong reaction to the removal of periods from citations.

A welcome element in the eighth edition is a greater focus on citing digital resources. The two sections of the McGill Guide that primarily deal with electronic resources are section 1.6 (“Online resources”) and section 6.22 (“Electronic sources”). Other information on citing electronic resources can be found in section 3.8 (“Online Databases”), section 6.5 (“Encyclopedic Digests”), and section 6.16 (“Newspapers, Newswires, and Other News Sources”). How digital resources are cited depends on whether they are a digital version of a print resource and whether they are found in a database or have a unique URL.

Section 1.6 states that “when citing to online resources, provide the full traditional citation, followed by a comma. Add online: followed by the URL enclosed in angle brackets (i.e., <>).” For example:

Ardavani v Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (30 May 2005), VA4-01907, online: Immigration and Refugee Board <>.

This section sensibly suggests giving “the full URL of the source” but omitting “any superfluous part of the URL, such as parameters or arguments, which are not necessary”.

Section 6.22 relates to materials that are found in databases and which may not necessarily have a unique URL. In this case, electronic versions of print materials should be cited in the same way as if they were in print, followed by the name of the electronic service or database. For example:

Kristin Savell, “Human Rights in the Age of Technology: Can Law Rein in the Medical Juggernaut?” (2001) 23:3 Sydney L Rev 423 (QL).

Appendix E of the McGill Guide provides abbreviations for electronic services, although the list is far from exhaustive.

However, section 6.22’s instructions on how to cite an online journal seem inconsistent with the instructions given in section 1.6. Rather than placing “online:” after the subscription, it is placed in the middle of the citation, for example:

Grant Yang, “Stop the Abuse of Gmail!”, online: (2005) Duke L & Tech Rev 14 at para 5 <>.

The McGill Guide tells users to “include the URL of the home page of the journal at the end of the citation” rather than the full URL for the article; this contrasts with the instructions in section 1.6 to include entire URLs.

Section 6.22 then goes on to give examples of how to cite blogs, blog comments, Twitter, and other such resources. (A side note to the McGill editor who decided to cite xkcd: thank you.)

The McGill Guide has also changed how loose-leafs are cited. In section 6.2.6 (“Books in Loose-leaf Form”), it now tells you to indicate the last release, e.g. “loose-leaf release 2014-11” rather than the date the loose-leaf was consulted. This is a far better way of citing loose-leaf materials, since the date that a loose-leaf was consulted and the date it was last updated can be very different. In combination with the directions provided in section 6.22, it becomes much easier to cite an online loose-leaf, for example:

Alberta Limitations Manual, 2nd ed (Markham, Ont : LexisNexis, 2007) (loose-leaf release 41) (QL).

However, citing an online loose-leaf is still not problem-free, as some online services do not indicate when the digital loose-leaf was last updated.

Ultimately, the most important element of a citation is that it enables the reader to find the document referred to. When citing a document that can change (such as a loose-leaf) it needs to be obvious which version of the document is being referred to. If the choice is between following the rules in the McGill Guide exactly and being precise about the document being cited, the latter should be the priority every time.

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