Civil litigation in Canada

Each province has a trial-level court, often called a superior court, and an appellate-level court. Most civil litigation in Canada begins in a provincial superior court. Appeals from superior courts are taken to the court of appeal of that province.

Canada also has specialized courts that are federal, rather than provincial, in scope. The Federal Court of Canada is a court of limited jurisdiction dealing primarily with intellectual property, immigration, maritime law and judicial review of the decisions and actions of federal boards, commissions and other tribunals. The Tax Court of Canada hears disputes concerning federal taxes. The Federal Court of Appeal hears appeals from both the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court of Canada, as well as appeals from certain specified federal tribunals, such as the National Energy Board.

The Supreme Court of Canada is Canada’s final court of appeal. It hears appeals from the appellate courts of all provinces and territories, and the Federal Court of Appeal. Ordinarily, a party wishing to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada must apply for “leave” or permission to appeal, except in certain criminal cases. Leave to appeal requires establishing that the appeal involves a matter of national importance or of a constitutional nature.

There are also several administrative tribunals across Canada, some federal and some provincial. Federal tribunals address, among other topics, matters related to energy, immigration and refugee, communications and transportation. Provincial tribunals address, among other topics, securities, financial services and pensions, alcohol and gaming, and energy and environmental matters. Tribunals at both the provincial and federal levels deal with labour and human rights matters.

All Canadian provinces except Québec are common law jurisdictions. Québec has a civil legal system, founded on the Civil Code of Québec, which was originally inspired by the Napoleonic Code of 1804.

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