There are two main reasons why the source of a case is important.
First, environmental legislation varies from province to province throughout Atlantic Canada. For example, environmental offences committed in Prince Edward Island and environmental offences committed in Nova Scotia are subject to different statutes and regulations. You may also find that an activity that is unlawful in one province is lawful in another. If you want to learn how an environmental issue might be handled in your own province, cases from other provinces could be misleading.
Second, Canada’s hierarchical court system creates a “top down” structure in which the decisions of “higher courts” bind the “lower courts” within the same jurisdiction. For example, if the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal were to hold that DDT is not a pesticide, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia would be bound by that decision, but the courts in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador would not be bound. This is another reason why cases from other provinces could mislead you if you want to learn how an environmental issue might be handled in your own province.
Canada has a hierarchical court system in which the decisions of “lower courts” can be reviewed by “higher courts.” This means that a single case might rise through multiple levels of court before coming to a stop. For example, this library contains many cases that began in the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench and then went to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and it even includes some that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, our country’s highest appellate court.
Other legal proceedings involve more than one judicial decision because courts have to address isolated questions in the midst of complex cases. For example, this library includes a number of cases in which a court’s decision in favour of one party over another had to be followed by a separate decision on costs (the amount of money that the unsuccessful party needed to pay to the other).
A single legal proceeding can involve an overwhelming amount of written material. Over the course of a hearing or trial, hundreds—maybe even thousands—of pages of writing may be put before a court.
A judicial decision tells us how a legal proceeding ended—it lets us know who was successful and who was unsuccessful, and it tells us why. But even more than that, a judicial decision gives us a comprehensive summary of a proceeding on the whole. Ideally, it will tell us the context of the case, the material facts, the legal issues at stake, the relevant law and legal principles, and everything else that had bearing on the final outcome. In short, judicial decisions boil legal proceedings down to their essences, making it easier for us to see how laws are applied to the facts of various situations.
CanLII is an open-access legal database. The website makes it easy to access thousands of court decisions from throughout Canada’s provinces and territories, and it is an invaluable research resource for the public. Other databases that collect and store judicial decisions can be very expensive, but judicial decisions stored in CanLII can be accessed free of charge.