CanLII and Canadian Legal Citation 9th edition


This is my first post, and I'm in way over my head, so please forgive me if I'm not being clear enough. I'm going to throw an insane amount of detail to help explain what I mean, and then I'll add a TL:DR at the end.

Edit : I just finished writting the post. I am so incredibly sorry for how long it turned out. I tried to answer all possible questions that may arise, but I may have gone overboard. Please see the TLDR for an explanation of my 3 main concerns.

My problem is regarding adding cases to Zotero, specifically, cases from courts in Canada. The connector is not adding information that would be necessary to properly cite the cases.

Currently, there was two Zotero versions of the McGill Uniform Legal Citation guide, the English one is updated to the 9th edition, while the french one is from 2014's 7th edition. These are the mostly used reference guides in Canada for legal documents.

My problem is that the Zotero translator for CanLII, the free legal database, isn't pulling information in a way that works with either versions of the guide.

As of the latest edition, in both french and english, when citing a case where a neutral reference is available (meaning not to a specific case reporter),  a parallel reference is only necessary when there are no court-assigned paragraph numbers. When there is no neutral citation, or the neutral citation case does not have court-assigned paragraph numbers, then it is necessary to place a parallel reference on top of the main reference.

So, according to the 9th edition guide, this is how a case should be cited:

Scenario 1 : If there is a neutral citation, and court-assigned paragraph numbers:

[Italicized parties], [neutral citation] [pinpoint], [italicized short form].

Scenario 2 : If there is a neutral citation, but not court-assigned paragraph numbers:

[Italicized parties], [neutral citation] [pinpoint], [parallel citation] [italicized short form].

Scenario 3 : Finally, if there is no neutral citation available :

 [Italicized parties], [most authoritative citation] [pinpoint], [second, less authoritative citation] [italicized short form].

Right now, the neutral reference is never getting imported, even if available on CanLII.

The problem is that, right now, Zotero does not have a field in which to import the neutral citation if available. The fields available for cases are :

Case name
Author (not relevant to a court case)
Date Decided
Docket Number (While all cases have a docket number, it is only relevant to cite it in administrative tribunal decisions)
Reporter volume
First page
Short title

A reporter reference is structured : [Year in brackets] [Reporter volume] [Reporter abbreviation] [First page].

A neutral reference is structured : [Year] [Court abbreviation] [Decision number (difference from docket number listed above].

The problem is that these fields do not work for any of the 3 scenarios listed above.

Scenario 1 : There is nowhere to put the neutral reference. While we could use the date and court fields for the first two values, there is nowhere to put the decision number without re-purposing another value.

Scenario 2 : Still nowhere to put the neutral reference, and now the values for [reporter], [reporter volume] and [first page] are used, and so can't be repurposed for the neutral reference.

Scenario 3 : All the fields to put the first non-neutral reference are present, but there is nowhere to put the secondary, less authoritative parallel reference.

I originally started writting this post to act for the Zotero connector to import the neutral reference from CanLII, but as I wrote this, and tried to explain what I meant and what I wanted, I realize that there is nowhere for the connector to place these values. Not unless the field's intented values where to be completely disregarded in favor of importing entire references to each one.

ie : Using the court value for the neutral reference, using the reporter value for the second, most authoritative parallel reference, and using the reporter volume for the parallel, less authoritative reference. That way, all 3 values are ready to be used, no matter which of the 3 scenarios listed above happens.

I don't know what the fix for this is. I'm not anywhere near able to even begin to know how to fix this. I wrote an email earlier today to the author of the 7th edition french style, but then, when I looked under the hood, I realized that unless something is done to be able to import up to 3 references, 1 neutral and 2 non-neutral, then it doesn't seem possible to have a style that perfectly follows the McGill guide's 9th edition citation guidelines for cases.

I'm hoping that someone smarter than me can help and see what I'm missing or what could be done.


Case :

The english neutral citation is : 2019 SCC 18

The most authoritative english reporter citation is : [2019] 2 SCR 105

The second authoritative english reporter citation is : 438 DLR (4th) 60

Then 375 CCC (3d) 293 is also listed, but it isn't as recommended as DLR is, so it shouldn't be used if DLR is available.

The citations are the same in french, but the abbreviations change (volume and page stay the same).

Scenario 1 citation :

R v Myers, 2019 SCC 18 (CanLII) [Myers].

Scenario 2 citation :

R v Myers, 2019 SCC 18 (CanLII), [2019] 2 SCR 105 [Myers].

Scenario 3 (we pretend that the neutral citation doesn't exist) :

R. v. Myers, [2019] 2 SCR 105, 438 DLR (4th) 60.

So, depending on the situation, Zotero needs to always be able to import 2 citations. Sometime 1 is used, sometime 2 are used, and which 2 are used changes depending on scenario 2 or 3.


Zotero doesn't have enough fields in the Case categories to input all needed information.

The Zotero connector does the import the neutral reference off of CanLII.

Even if the Zotero connector could identify the neutral reference off of CanLII, there is no value it can be saved to without re-purposing another value.

If you made it this far, thank you, and I hope that you can help, or at least, set me off in the right direction so that I may figure out how to fix this myself.
  • If you want to get the details of legal citations right, you should look at Juris-m, a Zotero fork dedicated to legal citations.
    There's a good chance full support for legal citations will never make it to Zotero, certainly not any time soon.

    When asked to write similar styles for other Commonwealth legal systems (Australia, UK), I've indeed used reporter and reporter volume to get at neutral citations. Parallel citations are mostly beyond anything Zotero can do. If you really want to hack things, you can use history for parallel citations.
  • @adamsmith

    Thank you for the recommendation. I did stumble upon Juris-m yesterday when looking into this.

    I guess, to kind-of explain my long-winded post yesterday, I am in the unfortunate situation that I took just enough computing science classes to understand, in a very high level way, what the problem is. However, I never learned the practical steps I would need to fix the problems I see.

    For exemple, in this, my problem would be solved by writing my own translator for CanLII, which would, as you say, copy the neutral citation, and up to two other citations, into Zotero (or Juris-m). I would then need to write a citation style that would recognize whether or not the field I use as "neutral citation" stand-in has something, and if so, prioritize that over all others.

    Unfortunately, that is well beyond the skill level I learned in the two intro to computing science I took as options in my undergrad.
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