52 Ancestors: Week 9 – The Canadian Court System and where to find records

Week 9 of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks has the prompt \”At the Courthouse\”. If you\’re new to Canadian research, it is important to know a little about the Canadian Court System to find the records you need.

There are two main court systems that genealogists concern themselves with. The Provincial/ Territorial Courts, and the Provincial Supreme Court (or Court of the Queen\’s Bench). The majority of records that genealogists look for will be in one of these two options. Of course, as with anything else, each province does things a little differently. So who covers what?

Newfoundland and Labrador

The Newfoundland Provincial Court handles the following:
  • Youth crimes
  • Civil Court cases up to $25,000
  • Criminal cases except Indictable Offenses (also known as Felonies in the American Court system)
  • Inquiries of accidental or mysterious deaths or fires
  • Family law  (Adoption, Child Support, Paternity, Marriages not performed in a church, for example)
  • Provincial Offenses
The Supreme Court of Newfoundland handles the following:
  • Civil Court cases over $25,000
  • Wills and Estates
  • Divorce
  • Guardianship of minors\’ personal affairs and finances
  • Appeals of decisions from the Provincial Courts
  • Criminal Cases of Indictable Offenses
Take note that in some areas of Newfoundland, there is no Family Court at the Provincial Court. In these cases, one would look to the Supreme Court for the records pertaining to Family law.

Prince Edward Island
The Provincial Court of Prince Edward Island handles minor criminal cases, Youth Law, and provincial offences
The Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island handles the following:
  • Wills and Estates
  • All Family Law
  • Small Claims Court
  • More serious criminal cases
  • Appeals from tribunals and the Provincial Court

The Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal handles the appeals from the other two courts.

Nova Scotia
The Provincial Court of Nova Scotia has jurisdiction of the following:
  • All criminal cases except Murder
  • Inquiries into suspicious deaths
  • Youth Justice Act
  • Family Court  matters outside the municipalities of Cape Breton and Halifax
  • Small Claims Court handles civil cases under $25,000
  • Provincial Offenses
The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia presides over:
  • Murder cases
  • Family law in the municipal districts of Cape Breton and Halifax
  • Appeals from the lower Courts
  • Divorce
  • Bankruptcy
  • Civil cases over $25,000
Wills and Estates are handles through the Probate Court of Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia Court of Appeal is where final appeals from the Supreme Court are held.

New Brunswick
  • Youth Criminal Justice
  • Criminal matters except murder
  • Provincial offenses
  • Murder cases
  • The Family Law division handles all matters relating to Family Law
  • Appeals of the Provincial Court
  • All Civil cases
Wills and Estates are handled through the Probate Court of New Brunswick.
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal handles appeals from the Court of Queen\’s Bench.

Because of the complex balancing act that Quebec performs between French and English law, the first thing you should do is read the Court of Quebec\’s webpage of their history. Quebec is unique to the rest of Canada in that it\’s civil code originated from French law, yet it\’s criminal code follows English law.
The Court of Quebec is divided into divisions. According to the website, the Civil Division handles 
 \”…all plaintiff claims involving monetary value or interest – in relation to the object of the dispute – that are less than $85,000, except claims for alimony, class actions and those reserved for the Federal Court of Canada…\”.  
If the amount of the claim is less than $15,000, it is handled by the Small Claims Court. 
The Criminal and Penal Division handles any criminal proeedings that are not under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Superior Court.
The Youth Division handles:
  • Youth Criminal Justice
  • Adoption
  • Welfare of Minors
The Superior Court of Quebec has jurisdiction over:
  • Appeals of other Courts
  • Family Law
  • Bankruptcies
  • Civil cases over $70,000
  • Jury Trials in Criminal matters
  • Wills and Estates
The Court of Appeal of Quebec handles appeals from the Superior Court, and also in lower courts in certain circumstances.

The Ontario Court of Justice has jurisdiction over:
  • Family law is practiced in the Family Court
  • Most criminal cases are tried in the Criminal Court
  • Provincial offenses
  • Child Protection
  • Adoptions
  • Youth Criminal Justice
  • Appeals from lower Courts
  • Serious Criminal Matters
  • Wills and Estates 
  • Bankruptcy
  • All civil matters. If under $25,000 it is handled through the Small Claims Court
  • All Family Law not covered by the Ontario Court of Justice
  • Divorce
Keep in mind matters relating to spousal or child support, and child custody/ access can be handled by either court.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario handles appeals from all lower courts.

The Provincial Court of Manitoba has jurisdiction over almost all criminal matters. Outside of Winnipeg, they also handle a limited amount of Family Law.

The Court of Queen\’s Bench has 2 divisions:

The General Division deals with criminal and civil litigation matters. The also hear appeals from the Provincial Court.

The Family Division handles all cases pertaining to Family Law and Child Welfare.

The Court of Queen\’s Bench is also where Wills and Estates are handled.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal handles the appeals from the lower courts.

The Saskatchewan Provincial Court has jurisdiction over the following:

  • Most criminal cases
  • Civil cases up to $30,000
  • Some Family Law matters, but only those outside Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert
  • Traffic and municipal laws
The Court of Queen Bench for Saskatchewan handles:
  • The most serious criminal cases
  • Civil cases over $30,000
  • Divorce and division of assets
  • Custody and access to children
  • Wills and Estates
  • Appeals from the Provincial Court
The Court of Appeal handles appeals from the other courts
The Provincial Court of Alberta has jurisdiction over:
  • Most of the criminal cases 
  • Most civil cases under $50,000
  • Child support, custody and access
  • Spousal support
  • Guardianship
  • The most serious criminal offenses
  • Civil cases over $50,000
  • Divorce and division of property
  • Wills and Estates
  • Appeals from the Provincial Court
The Court of Appeal of Alberta handles appeals from the other courts
British Columbia
The Provincial Court of British Columbia has jurisdiction over:
  • Child Welfare
  • Child custody and access
  • Adult guardianship
  • Spousal and child support
  • Civil claims $5,001 to $35,000
  • Most criminal cases
  • Youth Criminal justice
  • Provincial and municipal offenses
  • Appeals from the Provincial Court
  • Civil claims over $35,000
  • Divorce and Division of Property
  • Adoptions
  • Wills and Estates
The Court of Appeal of British Columbia handles appeals from the lower courts.
The Yukon Territorial Court has jurisdiction over:
  • Most criminal cases
  • Youth Justice cases
  • Child protection
  • Civil cases under $25,000
  • Appeals from the Territorial Court
  • The most serious criminal cases
  • Divorce and division of property
  • Custody and Access
  • Child and spousal support
  • Wills and Estates
The Court of Appeal of Yukon handles appeals from the lower courts. Take note that the BC Court of Appeal also handles cases from the Yukon. If you can\’t find a record of it in the Yukon, check in Vancouver as well. The judges from this court also sit in the Appeals Courts of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Northwest Territories
  • Most criminal cases
  • Territorial offenses
  • Child protection
  • Custody and Support
  • Civil cases up to $35,000
  • Appeals from the Provincial Courts
  • More serious criminal cases
  • Divorce
  • Wills and Estates
  • Civil cases over $35,000
The Court of Appeal for the Northwest Territories handles appeals from the lower courts. The judges also sit in the Appeals Courts of the Yukon and Nunavut. In special cases, they can also deal with cases from Alberta.
Youth Justice cases be heard in either the Territorial Court or the Supreme Court.
The territory of Nunavut is unique in Canada. The Nunavut Court of Justice handles all civil, criminal, Probate, and Family Law matters. There is no division between a Territorial and Supreme Court.
The Nunavut Youth Court handles cases relating to Youth Criminal Justice.
The Nunavut Court of Appeal handles all appeals. The judges also sit for the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Alberta Appeals Courts.
A final note, if your ancestor is Indigenous. Many of the Provinces have special courts for cases involving Indigenous or Aboriginal people. These courts work hand in hand with the Native communities. From what I understand, community elders have a say in matters that come before the courts, with a focus on reformation and community involvement.

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