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The Canadian Abridgments:  A Litigator's Essential Research Tool

At every key dispute point of the litigation process, you want to be sure that the weight of the case law is on your side.  In general, the best kind of case precedent is the one that captures not just your legal issue, but is also directly on-point with your fact situation.  The more abstract and specific your issue and facts, however, the more difficult it becomes to sift out a relevant gold nugget or two from a veritable ocean of case law, particularly so when you're unsure how to parse your keywords from the outset of your search.

 
That's where the Canadian Abridgments come into play as your essential tool for legal research.  The Abridgments are digests, published by Carswell, which summarize the contents of a case and which - most significantly - group cases according to very specific conceptual categories. 
 
To simplify how, in practice, one can use the Canadian Abridgments to effectively capture on-point case law, I will illustrate with the following example.  For this exercise, I will be referring to the Westlaw e-Carswell database, which I normally use:
 
Assume that you are acting for a plaintiff on a personal injury case in which you're seeking discovery on a police investigation report concerning the activities of the defendants involved in the motor vehicle collision that caused your client's injuries.  The police are resisting your efforts at discovery on the grounds that privacy interests are engaged.
 
Though there are many ways to specify your keywords, for our purposes, let us begin with the most general keyword search specification - one that is at least likely to capture your desired results, if they're out there:
 
police AND discovery AND "motor vehicle" AND collision
 
A search of the full database of case law yields 1,564 cases from that particular keyword specification.  Now, at this point, you could significantly cull your results by employing additional keywords or grouping your keywords in various proximity arrangements.  Or...
 
You can try your hand at using the exact same general keyword specification in a search of the Canadian Abridgment database of summaries - which yields a grand total of 14 summaries.  Given the fact that your initial search of the summaries proceeded with such general keywords, the relative handful of results - as compared with the case law database search - provides a strong indication that you are on track to find the relevant case you'll need, at least if it's out there. 
 
As you scan through the fourteen summary categories, you find - upon scrolling down to the fifth case - a case categorized under the summary heading:
 

Civil practice and procedure --- Discovery — Discovery of documents — Scope of documentary discovery — Documents in possession of non-party — Miscellaneous

 
The case, styled Mayea v. Cole, may very well be your targeted case.  Upon a cursory review of the summary, you notice that it involves a plaintiff seeking production of a copy of a police report arising out of a motor vehicle collision.  But on a closer view of the case, you notice that the legal issue is not exactly relevant to your search.  In Mayea, the key issue revolves around costs of production, and the scope of the bill to be charged to the recipients of the report.  At this point, you might stop your search, satisfied that you got close enough.  But it would be a terrible mistake, since you can actualy go much further now in satisfying yourself as to whether an on-point, relevant case is out there that you can use to solidify your arguments. 
 
When you examine the Mayea case summary, you'll notice that the summary category comes with a hyperlinked Abridgment classification number:  X.2.q.ii.E.  Clicking on this link will thereby give you all the cases classified under this particular category - which yields up 225 digest summaries.  You might think you're back to the needle-and-haystack problem again, but you're actually closer to the end of your journey than you realize.
 
Why is that the case?  Because now you're searching strictly within the parameters of your targeted conceptual issue - one that involves the scope of discovery of documents in the hands of a non-party.  Your tactic at this point is to use the "locate" feature for finding keywords likely to be in your targeted summary under this particular category, if it's truly out there.  To make sure you're not unduly excluding any potentially relevant case, you want to begin with the most general keywords relevant to your search, for example:
 
police AND "motor vehicle"
 
Now, using the "term" feature to simply scroll to only those summary digests featuring your keywords (in conjunction), you'll scroll past Mayea v. Cole, and on perusing the next case...voila!  Here you are - Stafford v. Adams - a 2009 Ontario decision that determines a plaintiff's right to production of the unedited portions of an SIU police report on the defendants involved in a motor collision.  Here, you find the court balancing the plaintiff's right to discovery against the police argument of a public interest in the defendants' privacy.  It's not only on-point with your legal issue, but also squarely on-point with your facts. 
 
In all likelihood, this case was buried somewhere among the 1,564 cases in your initial keyword search of the case law database.  You might have parsed or culled your search of the case law database with any number of keyword strategies, but you'd never know with absolute confidence whether or not you'd be unduly excluding your targeted case in an effort to cull so many irrelevant results. 
 
Using the Abridgment database, then, helps you to triangulate your search, allowing you to employ general keywords once you've captured the relevant conceptual category - overall, a strategy that gives you the confidence to know that you have exhaustively searched the existing body of case law.   
 
With all that in mind, know that I have not exhaustively documented the many ways in which the Canadian Abridgments can be employed as an effective weapon in your legal research arsenal.  Like any weapon, its true effectiveness is ultimately governed by the skill and expertise of the warrior (or, in this case, the legal researcher) that wields it. 
 
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James Cooper, a Toronto lawyer, offers legal research and litigation support services to lawyers and members of the public throughout the GTA (including Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia, Vaughan, Markham, and Richmond Hill) and the Province of Ontario.  He may be reached for a free initial phone consultation at (905)737-9994 or by email at jcooper at TorontoLegalResearch.com.

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