Contemporary Canadian Government & Politics:
A Practical Research Guide

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4. Finding and Evaluating Substantive Information
Finding Information Evaluating Information

Finding Information: Government Information

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Government information comes in all formats, covers all subjects, and is considered to be any information published by, commissioned by, or produced at the expense of a government body. Examples include research reports, working papers, studies, consultants' reports, annual reports, discussion papers, policy papers, planning documents, etc.

All government bodies keep records, submit reports to Parliament, and most also create information intended for the public. In some cases, government bodies are required by law to publish certain information (e.g. new laws and changes to laws, certain reports, statistics, etc.) Many government departments, agencies, boards and commissions also carry out or commission research to help in policy formation. In total, the federal government publishes more information than any publishing company in Canada.

Use government information for tracking policy in the making, finding out what motivated government to create programs or legislation, who influenced decisions, why, and how; for researching how government works, how government policies developed, and much more.

The following section describes tools and techniques for finding government information in general. For specific types of government sources such as bills, debates, etc. see Part 5: "Using Primary Source Material". For provincial and municipal government sources see "Special Topics: Provincial / Local Government and Politics".

Evaluating Government Information: Government publications are generally considered reliable sources, but can be biased by the government's political agenda, the mandate of the authoring body, or the intended audience. Knowing the context surrounding the publication (its purpose, which department authored or commissioned it and why, etc.) will help to evaluate it for your research purposes. (Check the government news releases, media reports and any other information you can find on the issue and the publication to determine these.) See also Evaluating Books and Evaluating Internet Sites for more general tips.

Back to the Top Indexes Government Internet Government Databases
Search Engines Publication Lists Access to Information
In Libraries:
Back to In Libraries Browsing Which Library Provincial / Municipal Government Libraries
Library Catalogues:
Most libraries have government-issued materials included in their online library catalogue. Check the catalogue's inclusion statement to be sure, or ask a Reference Librarian if all the government materials in the library can be found using the catalogue. Many libraries also link to selected government documents on the Internet through their library catalogues. A research library is often your best source for finding government information for a research project.

Government publications frequently do not have a specific person listed as author, instead, the authoring or sponsoring body is considered the author. In the Library of Congress cataloguing system these bodies are listed with jurisdiction first (e.g. Canada. Department of Fisheries and Oceans.) Since government department names can change over the years, it is sometimes easier and quicker just to search using keywords in the author field (e.g. canada and fisheries and department in the author field). Some of the reference books listed in Part 2: Facts & Figures list the current and past names of government ministries.
Back to In Libraries Search Catalogues Which Library Provincial / Municipal Government Libraries
Browsing Library Stacks:
Many academic libraries in Canada have government publications in a separate section of the library, catalogued by a version of the CODOC system that organizes documents by the authoring government body. You can browse these collections to find all the publications by a department together.

It is not necessary to understand what the components of a CODOC call number mean, but it can help you find the documents you need. For example: The book called "Time for Action" by the Canadian Human Rights Commission may have a call number like this: CA1 HR 2001T35 or as it would appear on the spine label on the book:
CA1
HR
2001T35

In general, the first grouping or line stands for the jurisdiction: CA1= Canada, federal , CA2= Canada, provincial, etc.
The second grouping/line stands for the department or agency and branch: HR= Human Rights Commission.
The third grouping/line includes the date (2001), a letter for the title (T), and a unique number that is assigned so that no two books have the same call number (35): 2001T35.
(For serial publications this third line starts with a letter.)

In the library using this example, if you were interested in other publications by the Human Rights Commission you could find them all in the section beginning with CA1 HR ...

NOTE: Statistics Canada and other large publishers within the government have their own numbering system for their documents which may also be used to organize these publications in some libraries.

  TIP: Ask a librarian for a brief explanation of how the government documents are organized in your library; it can save you a lot of time. 
Back to In Libraries Search Catalogues Browsing Provincial / Municipal Government Libraries
Which Library?
Some libraries are better than others when it comes to their collection of federal government publications. The difference is even greater for provincial/territorial, regional and municipal document collections.

Full depository libraries receive all federal publications available through the Depository Services Program. Selective depository libraries receive only a subset of these based on what they think their users will need. Check the list at the DSP web site http://dsp-psd.communication.gc.ca/Depo/table-e.html to find the nearest full depository library near you.

Don't be shy about using depository libraries. These libraries receive government publications for free on a contract basis. The other side of the bargain is that the library must allow the general public access to this information.

NOTE: Even a "full" depository library will not have everything the federal government has published. Many publications have eluded the depository system over the years. Also, since the 1980's especially, some government organizations have started charging high prices for their publications with the result that not all libraries could afford to acquire all publications.
You can browse or search for the federal government publications (in print and electronic formats) made available through the depository system and some others, by browsing or searching the Government of Canada's Publications database (formerly DSP Catalogue) at http://publications.gc.ca/control/browseOurCatalogue?searchAction=13&productId=18&lang=English&s=new.

The latest documents available to DSP libraries appear every week in the "Weekly Checklist" at http://publications.gc.ca/control/weeklyChecklistMain?webAction=readDspDepositoryInfo&searchAction=4&productId=1

Back to In Libraries Search Catalogues Browsing Which Library Government Libraries
Provincial and Municipal Government Information:
There is a similar depository system in some provinces for provincial government publications.
See "Special Topics: Provincial/Local Government & Politics".
Back to In Libraries Search Catalogues Browsing Which Library Provincial / Municipal
Government Libraries:
Some federal and provincial government departments and agencies have their own libraries. If the information you need is related to a specific department, you may be able to access the departmental library directly, or else use its reference services or online catalogue, then get the documents you need through interlibrary loan.
NOTE: The services offered to the public by government libraries vary. Not all of them have a mandate to serve the public directly. Check the details on their web site before you go.
A complete set of links to federal government libraries and their catalogues is available at the National Library of Canada web site, under "Canadian Library Gateway". (See Part 8 for details.)

The National Library of Canada should be receiving a copy of all published government documents. You can search their online catalogue with holdings of over 1,000 other Canadian libraries, many of them government libraries, which contribute to the AMICUS catalogue. See Part 8 for details.

You can limit your search just to government publications within AMICUS by using the Federal Publication Locator http://www.collectionscanada.ca/7/5/index-e.html hosted by the National Library and Communication Canada.

AMICUS is the most comprehensive catalogue to search for federal government documents, but it may not have as many current documents or Internet publications as the "Government of Canada Publications" catalogue does. You may also need to use some of the other sources listed below.

Back to the Top In Libraries Government Internet Government Databases
Search Engines Publication Lists Access to Information
Indexes for Government Documents:
Some Canadian journal indexes (e.g. Canadian Periodical Index, CBCA) index the articles in a few of the better known federal government serials such as Statistics Canada's "Canadian Economic Observer" and "Canadian Social Trends", but there is no index that covers them all. Some other indexes include the occasional Canadian government report or other monograph (e.g. PAIS), but there is also no comprehensive index for all Canadian government documents.

Canadian Research Index. Toronto: Micromedia ProQuest, 1972 – . (Title varies: Profile Index, Publicat Index, ProFile, Microlog)
CD-ROM and online by subscription. (Print version discontinued Dec. 2003.)

Description: CRI is an index to selected Canadian government reports and other monographs (from federal, provincial, and local governments, agencies, boards and commissions) based on their "research value". It also indexes theses, conference proceedings, and reports from research institutes, universities and professional associations.
Coverage: Citations and abstracts of selected documents (NOT serials) from 1972 to the present.
Tips: All documents found using CRI can be purchased from Micromedia ProQuest. Most large university libraries in Canada also receive these documents on microfiche.
NOTE: These documents may not be listed individually in all library catalogues, and may be filed separately in microfiche cabinets. Always copy down the "Microlog number" for each document you want to find. The documents on microfiche are usually filed by Microlog number.
Back to the Top In Libraries Indexes Government Databases
Search Engines Publication Lists Access to Information
Finding Government information on the Internet:
The National Library of Canada's and many university libraries’ catalogues include links to online government information. There is a lot of work involved with this, so library catalogues may not be the best place to find the most current government information on the Internet. Use online government databases and search engines to find the latest:
Back to the Top In Libraries Indexes Government Internet
Search Engines Publication Lists Access to Information
Government Information Databases:
Government of Canada Publications (formerly Depository Services Program Online Catalogue):
As mentioned above, selected documents from 1993 on, in all formats (including documents "published" on the Internet only), can be found and linked to using this database.
http://publications.gc.ca/control/browseOurCatalogue?searchAction=13&productId=18&lang=English&s=new.

The Weekly Checklist lists the latest available documents each week.

Canadian Government Information on the Internet (CGII):
This database provides brief descriptions of the information found on government web sites (federal, provincial, and municipal) which includes but may not necessarily be official "documents" or publications. A great deal of information is posted to web sites that falls in this category (electronic "grey literature": pamphlets, brochures, factsheets, newsletters, etc.) Annotations are written by government documents librarians from across the country. CGII is archived in the Library and Archives Canada Electronic Collection, but has not been updated since 2002.

Federal information is listed under broad subject headings. This arrangement groups together information from many different agencies and departments which are not always obvious producers of information on the same topic. Provincial and municipal government information is listed by province. Government e-mail lists, electronic journals, and libraries are also listed. CGII can also be used as a quick and easy way to access government web sites without having to bookmark them or memorize their URLs. Each section (federal subject, province, etc.) can be searched by keyword using your Internet browser (click on Edit, then Find).

Government Department and Agency Web Sites:

Sometimes all of the above-mentioned sources take a few days, weeks, or months to list new documents. For the most current government information see the web site of the government department or agency that produced the information. If you know the subject area, but not the specific departments that might have recent information on your topic, use the Canadian Government Information on the Internet (CGII) database to see which departments are likely to have the information you need and to link to their web site.

If you know which department or agency has the information you need, you can also access their web site by using the alphabetical list at the official web site for the Government of Canada:
Canada Site: http://canada.gc.ca/depts/major/depind_e.html

Go to the government web site you expect has the document you are looking for and look for the section called: "Publications".

The Canada Site's Publication page also links to the parts of each federal web site that list its publications, with an added breakdown by broad topic:
http://canada.gc.ca/publications/publication_e.html

For announcements of new publications, check the "What's New" section of a government web site, also "News Releases" or "Press Releases", and pay attention to what is featured on the home page. Often the hot topic of the day will have a special write-up or featured position on the main page of the web site.

The Canada Site has links to all federal web sites' What's New pages, by department and by date, at:
http://canada.gc.ca/whats/whatsnew_e.html.

The National Library of Canada has links to all federal web sites' News Release pages at:
http://www.collectionscanada.ca/005/005-1113-e.html.

See the Government of Canada Web Archive http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/webarchives/index-e.htm for information that may no longer exist on current federal web sites. This is a Library and Archives Canada project to archive federal government domain web sites from Dec. 2005 on, harvested semi-annually.

Library and Archives Canada Electronic Collection. http://collection.collectionscanada.ca/electroniccollection/003008-200-e.html
As part of their mandate to collect Canadian publications, the National Library archives Canadian books and periodicals published online. The collection can be browsed by subject list, searched by title or keyword in full text. Many of the documents in this collection are government publications. Since by "archiving" the National Library provides a stable URL for each document, not merely links, this is a good place to check for government publications when the authoring department's link to their document is not accurate or no longer available.

NOTE: AMICUS, the National Library's online union catalogue also includes these electronic documents. You can limit an AMICUS search to just web-based documents in the Advanced Search screen. Links to the document are provided.

Back to the Top In Libraries Indexes Government Internet
Government Databases Publication Lists Access to Information
Search Engines:
Almost all government web sites have a search feature to allow you to search by keyword for items on their web site. If you know what you are looking for, and the search words or phrases you use are distinctive enough, this can be very useful. The standard look of federal government web sites makes it easy to find the Search button on the top banner of each organization's homepage. The Canada Site has also created a link to the search engines at each federal site: "Search Engines by Departments and Agencies" at http://canada.gc.ca/search/srcind_e.html.

NOTE: As with the Internet in general, there is information within databases on the web (part of the "hidden web", or "deep web") that search engines cannot find. There are hundreds of government databases that fall in this category. The Depository Services Program listed some of these in 2001 in their Weekly Checklist Supplement: Canadian Federal Government Databases Accessible Through the Internet. http://dsp-psd.communication.gc.ca/Checklist/s01-01-e.html.

TIP: If you are browsing for information on a government web site, use the Site Map. This can give you a quick overview of what is available on the site, including databases which may need to be searched separately.

Government of Canada Mega Search Engine. http://search-recherche.gc.ca/cgi-bin/query?mss=canada/en/simple.html&browser=IE
This mega search engine allows you to search all federal government web sites in one search. You can access this by clicking on the "Search" button at the top of the screen on the official Canada Site homepage at http://canada.gc.ca. It is a powerful search engine, with many good search features, including allowing for an exact phrase search, truncation (e.g. tax* to retrieve tax, taxes, taxation, etc.), Boolean logic to include and exclude terms, and more. You can also link to the Translation Bureau thesaurus to make sure you get relevant documents in both English and French. The Advanced Search screen allows you to limit your search by date range and to rank the importance of the search terms.

NOTE: As with all mega search engines, you are likely to get a results list far too large to deal with effectively. Read the Search Tips to make sure you can formulate your search to be as specific as possible.

Internet-wide Search Engines:
If the main disadvantage to using a government mega search engine is getting too many results, that disadvantage is multiplied many times over by using an Internet-wide search engine like Google, with the added difficulty of not knowing if what was retrieved is actually from a government site or not. However, there are some ways to structure a search to make it easier:

The "site" command in Google allows you to limit a search to specific domains or web sites. For example, to find documents on Afghanistan in Canadian federal government web sites, enter: site:gc.ca afghanistan

The "intitle" command limits the search to the keyword in the title area of a web page, (not always a title search, but as close as Google gets). This may result in more relevant titles found. For example, enter: site:gc.ca intitle:afghanistan

Whichever search engine you use, check out the Advanced search features to get the most out of it.

NOTE: Canadian government web sites do not have the .gov ending that applies to government sites in the United States. (See Evaluating Information -- Internet Sites for more details.)
Back to the Top In Libraries Indexes Government Internet
Government Databases Search Engines Access to Information
Government Publication Lists:

Finding out what publications have been published by the government is not as easy as it should be. When reported to the National Library of Canada, government documents are listed in Canada's national bibliography Canadiana. Each department, agency, etc. within the federal government also may publish a separate list of its own publications. There is also a federal publication catalogue that combines the publications of all departments in one list (now a searchable database). However, none of these are entirely comprehensive, so a serious researcher may need to check all of these sources as well as follow up any other references found in previous research, library catalogues, etc.

Canadiana: The National Bibliography of Canada. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1950 - . Print version discontinued Dec. 1991. Microfiche version discontinued Dec. 2000. Online version available via AMICUS.
Description: Canadiana is the most comprehensive listing of what is published in Canada or about Canada.
Coverage: Pre-confederation to the present. Updated daily in AMICUS.
Includes: Books, periodicals, government documents, theses, music scores, maps, Internet and other electronic documents, etc.
Tips: An Amicus search can be limited to government publications only by using the Federal Publication Locator: Select "Specialized AMICUS Sites" from the AMICUS welcome screen.
More details on Canadiana available at: http://www.collectionscanada.ca/canadiana/index-e.html

Government of Canada Publications. Ottawa: Government of Canada, 1953 - . Various titles. Print versions: (monthly) discontinued 1978, (annual cumulation) discontinued 1977, (quarterly) started 1979; discontinued 1992.
Online version, 1993 - . http://publications.gc.ca/control/browseOurCatalogue?searchAction=13&productId=18&lang=English&s=new. Updated weekly by Weekly Checklist.
Description:A catalogue or publication list intended to show the publications of all federal governmental organizations combined.
Coverage:Years covered are the same as the publication years.
Includes: Online version includes selected documents from 1993 on, in all formats (including documents "published" on the Internet only.
Tip: The annual print cumulation included indexes.

Department / Agency Publication Lists.
Many federal government departments and programs, agencies, and other bodies have produced publication lists of their own publications.

Current:
As mentioned earlier, the current versions are on their web sites, usually under "Publications", "Research", or similar headings.

The Canada Site's Publication page also links to the parts of each federal web site that lists its publications, with an added breakdown by broad topic:
http://canada.gc.ca/publications/publication_e.html

NOTE: Any publications older than the web (1990's) will likely not be included in the above lists. In fact, many current publications may not be included either, as federal government organizations are not required to provide this feature on their web sites. There are many reasons documents are not posted: They may not be considered of interest to the public, do not have positive PR value, etc.

Historical:
Before the Internet, many federal government departments and agencies produced print lists of their publications. To find these publication lists, search AMICUS or your nearest research library's catalogue, combining keywords that cover the government body's name, one or both of the keywords in the subject field: "bibliography" or "catalogs", or keywords that are likely to appear in the title field (e.g. publication or publications.)
Common subject headings used:
Canada - government publications - bibliography
Government publications - Canada - bibliography
[Dept.name] - catalogs

NOTE: Some older records for government documents in AMICUS (and in university library catalogues) may have no subject headings.

Check the departmental library's online catalogue, if there is one. (Check the list of government libraries at the Canadian Library Gateway.) Or contact the department's librarian for assistance.

See also Special Topics for publication lists relevant to the topics of immigration, environmental policy, international relations, etc.

Back to the Top In Libraries Indexes Government Internet
Government Databases Search Engines Publication Lists
Access To Information Requests:
If you have identified federal government information that should be available to you, either directly or through libraries, but is not, then you may want to make a formal request under the Access to Information Act. This Act gives the public the right to access government information.

For details on the Act, how to request information, contact information, and online request forms, see the Treasury Board Secretariat's "Access to Information and Privacy" web site at http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/gos-sog/atip-aiprp/index_e.asp,

or the Department of Justice web site: "Using the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act" at http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/atip/using.html.

For assistance in identifying the appropriate government agency and contact person, use:

InfoSource. Ottawa: Government of Canada, 1991 - . Annual in print. Online version available at http://www.infosource.gc.ca/index-e.asp.
This is a federal government directory intended to help the public find the appropriate contact points to make an Access to Information Request. It is in three parts:
Sources of Federal Government Information: For each federal government body subject to the Access to Information Act, this part describes the organization and its information holdings.
Directory of Federal Government Enquiry Points: Has contact information for each agency.
Sources of Federal Employee Information: For federal employees; pertains to the Privacy Act.

You can also consult a database of previous requests made under the Access to Information Act:

Database of Access to Information Requests. Maintained by David McKie, Journalist. http://www.onlinedemocracy.ca/CAIRS/CAIA-OD.htm
This is a database of requests for information made to Canadian federal government institutions under the Access to Information Act since March 1993. The database is useful to see if any requests have been made for the same or similar information as you require. You can then contact the department or agency involved to obtain the records already made public in response to those requests.

Each province also has similar legislation. See Special Topics: Provincial / Local Government & Politics.

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Last Updated: January 8, 2008
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