Is anyone as dismayed as I by the very recent changes to the CanLII site? Has it, in fact, made finding cases any easier? I miss the ability to go straight to the alphabetical list of cases. The changes made in the way one finds legislation seem to be far less drastic.


  1. I’m not sure I’m dismayed John, since I have zeroed in on cases moderately efficiently. But yesterday’s performance was so slow I might as well have walked the 100 metres to the library and checked the books.

    What would you like to see in the interface? What ways of searching does Canlii not accommodate?

  2. Simon,

    What would I like to see in the interface? Rather than reinventing a very good wheel, why wouldn’t CanLII get permission to use the AustLII form home page. That’ll define the content very nicely.

    Heck, even the current BaiLII version is better than the old or present CanLII.

    Beauty is in the eye, etc. of course


  3. I was disheartened to see the negative comments about the new CanLII interface, which may have been made before a full exploration of the many improvements to the site, as enumerated at

    Please take some time to fully explore it before passing judgment. Most of us don’t like change when we are used to a product interface. However, in my view this change is well worth it for the increase in functionality and the many added features. For example, after bringing up a Reflex record for a case, you can search within the citing cases to restrict the list to those cases containing particular keywords. The search language has been dramatically improved, as has the highlighting feature.

    Give it a fair test run, and then let’s hear about what still needs to be improved.

    Catherine Best
    CanLII Vice President and Board member

  4. I must be missing something, David: the AustLII search is a single text entry box that will admit Boolean searches, no? How is that preferable to CanLII’s search page, which I find much more helpful? (And far more beautiful, but as you say that’s less open to rational explanation.)

    And John it does seem that an alpha list would be possible and useful for some. Why not just put the first initial you want into the case name search box — only one click more, no?

  5. Ms. Best,

    Content is one thing. Form and function is another. CanLII can add all the content in the world. That won’t overcome the frailties in the appearance of the homepage interface and subpages.

    CanLII has great content which is easily-enough found. I’d say that to you even if I weren’t still on your essential Canadian text books list (some 25 years later).

    But there’s the appearance issue. It may be wrong that form trumps content. Nonetheless it’s true. Need I mention reality TV? Or the Toronto Maple Leafs?

    Let’s take an easier example, closer to home. Canada isn’t an island … well, Ottawa may be, but that’s another issue. Canadian lawyers sometimes have to peak north, south, east or west of our borders. Remarkably enough, there are othe LIIs. You’d never know it from the interface. AustLII, on the other hand ….

    Canada may well be the Great White North, but which designer chose the appearance and colours for the home pages? The people who designed the Vancouver Canucks yellow and black uniforms?

    Heck .. even Findlaw has a better interface.

    Even IBM’s DOS 4.0 had a better interface.

    The truth is that the appearance of the CanLII interface doesn’t matter a whit to me. It took me a sum-total of less than 90 seconds to figure out where everthing had gone. 80 seconds of that time were spent blowing my nose. (I have a big nose.)

    Other people may be more sensitive.

    Maybe CanLII ran some focus groups; maybe CanLII did. If it did, the focus groups needed reading glasses.

    Didn’t anybody on the CanLII board ask something like – “Say, folks, why are we reinventing the wheel? Are we, because of Canadian constitutional pieties required to have a made in Canada solution, even if it’s second rate …”

    That’s just my view, of course.

    David Cheifetz

  6. Simon,

    Boolean searches are no problem for me – (call it a wasted education) – but that’s only on the main page.

    Go to the advanced search page.

    Look at the list of search options produced by clicking on the down arrow in the find box.


  7. The URL on my earlier post did not transmit correctly. It should be


  8. I am still exploring the website and the new features. Certainly there is no ideal time to roll out a new interface that will accommodate everyone but the timing of the change at the busiest time of the Law School year was not opportune. I am concerned that the “advanced” link moved from the top right to the bottom left. I’ve had a few comments already about where did the advanced link go. The use of colour in the advanced search features of the previous version was better for instruction.

    There are however functional issues that have been brought to my attention. 1) Try either an advanced or simple search for Federal Legislation. Search for the “charter” or even the full title “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” in the statute title search. No luck. Two regulations yes but not the charter. But I say to myself, it is actually part of the constitution act so I try a full text search and get 62 hits with no charter. I do find down at hit 40 “The Constitution Act, 1982” and if I click this link I will find the charter. But back to my earlier search: I then tried a statute search for “disability” and get 39 hits of acts/regs with disability although most do not have “disability” in the title but in a subtitle or section title of the act/reg. So why does “disability” in the heading of s. 153.1 of the Criminal code come up, but then the charter not come up? Yes I can just do a browse of legislation by title but it does raise concerns about indexing and how the search engine is searching the documents.

  9. I like the new CanLII interface. Perhaps it is because of my personal “when and why” for using CanLII. My short reasons are these:

    I no longer have to scroll down on the main page to get to provincial or territorial content

    This seems like a minor functional change, however, most often when I go to the CanLII site, I am using it to locate a specific document that I know something about – either decision or legislation. By eliminating scrolling on the main page with the jurisdicitional drop down menu, my mouse wheel gets a rest.

    I appreciate the ability to select boards and tribunals by area of law on the advanced search page.

    A fast cross section of tribunal sources is another nice improvement to the advanced search selections. Even the ability to select None is an improvement to the search engine. I like the ability to more quickly limit the data scope of my search in this new interface.

    I have ALWAYS appreciated that CanLII gives a link to the source of the information, especially for legislation

    I am very glad that this still exists, and that the “last updated” dates are still very clear.

    Not all technology changes are an improvement but rather ‘efficiencies’ to correct the inefficiencies of the last release. I think that the folks at CanLII have put good thought into these latest improvements. I personally appreciate that CanLII is not just a copy of the layout other LII sites.


  10. Simon F,

    At a glance, the BAILII homepage has rearranged its content so that the entire page will appear on most monitors at a standard resolution without having to scroll down. It was a 2 colum arrangement. Now it’s 3 colums, with the other LII links on the right. The UK law links have stayed on the left. Thee basic search functions etc are in the centre.

    It’s still recognizably the BAILII feel in appearance.


  11. Alisa Posesorski

    I would like to echo David Michels’ comment about the difficulty of bringing up statutes on the new CanLII. I had a similar, very frustrating experience. And I was also wondering if there were any plans to update the CanLII find by citation tool which was posted some time ago on Slaw. It is not working for me anymore with the new CanLII, but I did find it handy to use.

  12. I have not explored all the features of the new CanLII but, in response to Simon’s suggestion that putting an initial letter in a name field will produce an alphabetical listing of the cases beginning with that letter, I can say that it will not work. If, for example, you put an “m” in the name field. it only gives you those cases with a single “M” in the name and it does not even present those cases alphabetically. It rejects a search of the form “m*”. An “ma” simply gets those cases where the letters “ma” stand alone in a name. There seems no way to find a case unless you know at least one name and can spell it accurately. If you know precisely what you are looking for, this method may work, but it will also produce a lot of stuff that you don’t want. Apart from the cases decided in the last six months or so, I see no value in being able to search the cases decided in, say, January 1999, particulary since they, too, are not organized alphabetically. I very much hope that the old alphabetical listings will reappear.

  13. You can put me down as one of those who generally likes the new arrangement. It did take me a few moments to realize that the “table of contents” approach was available via the “databases” box, but after that it was clear sailing. And it’s nice to have the search feature readily available on whatever page one may have reached by drilling through the databases.

    Of course, I have some quibbles. David Michels’ “charter” problem is really the result of the pernicious practice of legislatures in making one act a part or schedule or appendix of another act. Ontario has been a great offender here, of course. My personal preference would be to include all “act” titles (and “charter” titles as well, i suppose) in the index. I really would like to be able to retrieve the “Consumer Protection Statute Law Amendment Act, 2002” on occasion (session laws generally, really, is what I want sometimes), and not just the “Consumer Protection Act, 2002”, “Motor Vehicle Dealers Act, 2002”, “Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002”, and “Travel Industry Act, 2002” individually.

    Incidentally, putting this example together also made me think that there ought to be a general link from CanLII to the Ontario e-Laws web site, as there is to Ontario Hansard, the Ontario Gazette, etc., and not just to the “Disclaimer” and “Copyright information” pages. (Unless, of course, I just missed the link.) I haven’t checked to see if this is an issue for the other provinces.

  14. Alphabetical case lists appear in AUSTLII and BAILII. There’s no valid reason for CANLII to not have them. Last I checked we use the same alphabet.

    As to content, I see that CANLII has tagged / key words for the cases that come up. I’m going to suggest that CANLII ask users to report significant mistakes in the tags.

    For example, I checked a case with which I’m reasonably familiar. The tags that came up may have something to do with something in the case, but certainly don’t relate to anything anybody would remember it for – well, other than that fault, negligence, and hospital are words that were used

    Martin v. Listowel Memorial Hospital, 2000 CanLII 16947 (ON C.A.) — 2000-11-01
    Ontario — Court of Appeal for Ontario
    fault — price inflation — negligence — hospital — wage

    Echoing John Swan’s comment about the need to know extremely accurate spellings

    The search engine also isn’t “fuzzy” enough on the main page. I’m going to assume it’s the same on expert. For example it’ll produce Laferrière v Lawson (SCC) only if the Laferrière is spelled with the accented è

  15. Technical issues aside, the “modernized” look seems to be a step in the wrong direction. The total redesign of the input box (including shape, colour and font), as well as the checkmarks seems without purpose except to be “different” or to “look nice”. There is a reason why even billion dollar companies like Google still use the generic input boxes, check marks, and radio buttons. Uniformity of website controls between websites is key to a user-friendly experience. These input controls here are just alien. There may have been a bit too much creativity in the redesign without enough attention to some basic web design and usability principles.

  16. As one of the many people involved in CanLII, I must admit that I have followed with great interest this thread of posting. I want to thank all those who took the time to comment. Whether positive or negative, your comments are very useful. To illustrate this, one mentioned that when searching for title, diacritic marks (like “é”) were required. This is actually a bug, and will be changed. Similarly, be assured that in the coming days, the Charter will be as easy to find as the Criminal Code. This shows how SLAW is useful as a focal point for the community; it contributes to improve the tools in use by the legal community.

    CanLII used to be fast, and will remain so. As most of you have guessed, we tuned the code in the last 36 hours to address the performance issues that remained hidden during internal testing and beta. We are now back to normal speed and we are increasing server capacity to meet additional demand. Regarding the site’s design, I guess it is impossible to please everyone.

    There were heated debates about whether or not to remove alphabetical lists from the web site. What prompted us to remove them is that as collections grow, these lists often become unmanageable and their usability decrease as the number of pages for one letter and the number of cases with the same style of cause increase. On the other hand, lists of cases sorted by date offer a simple way of checking for new material and provide the users with an easy way of assessing how far back a collection goes.

    To offset this change, we have considerably improved our search engine to make case name search much easier. A specific box allows one to search by citation and/or case name. If you are unsure of the spelling of the case name, the * operator is available. There are technological limitations to this operator, it requires three letters, but let’s be candid; it does not happen often that one does not know the first three letters of one of the words in the title. I also believe that the search box makes drilling down through similarly named cases that much easier as in the following example. Search for [Smith] in British Columbia Superior Court database with dates [2006] and [2006] you will get 10 Smith’s cases. With alphabetical lists approach, you would have thousands of cases starting with “S” and then 236 Smith’s cases; and to be nice for differing opinions I will not discuss the really funny situations where the case name starts with an “R.” in a database as the Cour du Québec totaling 112,695 decisions. You get the picture.

    Finally, this message would be incomplete without mentioning that we, at LexUM, share the admiration expressed here for the wonderful work done by our friends at Austlii and Bailii. Even though we sometimes fail to measure to the standards they set in some areas, we certainly do our best to challenge them in others. Let’s the discussion continue.


  17. Daniel,

    Alphabetical lists are unmanageable for whom? Decrease in usability for whom? That can’t be for LexUM, the CanLII software, or the CanLII hardware.

    So, unless there’s a coding issue behind the decision, isn’t manageability and usability the users’ decision? A database is a database. The code can easily generate an alphabetical list. It’s up to those who want the lists to use the data in that form, with appropriate tools. If I want a list of all of the case names starting with “ch”, then CanLII should assume I have a way to massage the data into usable form. All CanLII need do is provide the data in that form.

    Thanks for the advice that the diacrtical marks issue is a bug not a “Microsoft ™- like” feature created to assist recalcitrant Anglophone Canadians in becoming better spellers in both of our official languages.

    There is another issue that CanLII needs to address. It’s amending case titles which change between the time the decision is released to CanLII and it’s reported in one of the “official” reporter series. I don’t know how often this happens; however, here’s an example.

    O’Neil v. Van Horne, 2002 CanLII 41072 (ON C.A.),
    O. (A.) v. V. (J.), 2002 CanLII 41072 (ON C.A.)

    You won’t find the O’Neil version in any title / case name search. You’ll find it, though, in the body of some cases referring to the decision, because they’re keyed to the cite and the later case refers to the parties by name. Do a Reflex noteup on the acronym version and you’ll see what I mean.

    A “full text” search on “2002 CanLII 41072” won’t produce the O. (A.) case in the results list. Or the O’Neil version. It produces 3 cases which have the O’Neil version in their body.

    A citation search, however, on “2002 CanLII 41072” doesn’t produce the O’Neil reference. It produces O. (A.) v. V. (J.), 2002 CanLII 41072 (ON C.A.) — 2002-04-25

    This ties back to the alphabetical lists issue. Assume I knew the case name started with a version of O’Neil / O’Neill / O’Neal but didn’t know the second. See the point?

    Please note that my criticisms have had nothing to do with the extent of the content on CanLII.

    On the appearance issue? I echo the comments in post #15. I’ll add this. My impression is that CanLII’s coders were told to design a new interface unique to CanLII. It wasn’t the Mona Lisa of interfaces (or even the Jaguar XKE) before; however, my impression is that the redesign would have occurred even if it was, if the design was common to other LIIs. That’s the wrong approach. Are you able to tell us why CanLII chose such a radical path?

    Best regards,

    David Cheifetz

  18. I think its a great re-design. I won’t miss the alphabetical lists, and the 3-character+* trick is effective. I wouldn’t like an AustLII-style site, which I find cumbersome. The design makes it obvious what the content is – I think that’s great. There are not a lot of links out to other LIIs or to non-primary documents, as AustLII has, but there are other sources for such. I admire the elegance and focus. CanLII now links prominently to Law Societies, but wouldn’t it be better to take the final step and link to the Law Society Libraries? That’s where practitioners and researchers without their own libraries need to call for help.

    Still, we are over the hump of Web 2.0, and I don’t see why we couldn’t all have our own MyCanLIIs…

  19. Since I started this long chain, I am hesitant to add to it. I have, however, one other concern when information has to be searched for in only one specified way and that is the loss of the serendipitous find. I treasure the printed versions of the reports because, no matter how poorly they are edited, I can turn the page to look at what intrigues me. If I can’t wander through a list of cases, I have lost the chance to make a wholly unexpected connection. I have a suspicion that those who design computer searching tools are unaware of the extent to which successful legal research is often a matter of serendipity or, if you like, just pure, blind luck.
    I endorse David’s comment to Daniel. If CanLII gives me an alphabetical list of cases, it’s up to me to make such use of it as I please. If I get 400 cases starting with the name “Smith”, that’s my problem (or opportunity); it seems to me to be a bad argument for the designers of CanLII to tell me that that’s more infomation than I can handle. How on earth do they know?

  20. just wanted to let y’all know that the CanLII Board met today and the issues raised by this post and the subsequent comments were raised and discussed by those present.

    daniel and catherine have already responded to some of the comments, but i’ll contribute a few more bits of gristle. regarding comment #14, the ‘keywords’ in the search results are generated by software, not human indexers, so some curious terms are bound to show up – but remember, neo still beat agent smith at the end. regarding comment #11, the ‘find by citation’ tool is incorporated right into the 2d search box of the main window: “2: statute name / case name / citation / docket number”

    for myself, i never found the alpha listing of search results of much use, especially given the increasing numbers of anonymized decisions. my own lobbying, for a results listing ordered by neutral citation, has so far not come to fruition.

    but please, do keep providing this valuable feedback – as you can see from daniel’s comments, they are heeded. also, feel free to let your law society reps know that you appreciate that their members contribute the funding to ensure that users can access this legal reference / research tool as much as they want, without search charges.

  21. “Senatorhung”

    Neo died in the end. So did the Smiths.

    Apart from that, “curious” is when the terms at least have the possibility of some tenuously marginally more than de minimus contingently feasible relationship to any potentially relevant aspect of the subject matter.

    The terms generated by the software don’t. Maybe that’s an indication of a “feature” that CanLII might look into.

    Unless there’s a coding reason for eliminating the alpha list, there’s no reason to have.

    You’ve heard it’s useful to some. And why. Let me suggest that the fact it still exists on, at least, AustLII and BaiLII is some evidence from which one might infer (inductively, of course) that somebody in those spheres finds it useful.

    By all means, do keep trying for the result list ordered by neutral citation.

    I repeat my views that the appearance of the interface is a mistake. I’ll try it this way. There’s a good reason that Windoze’s interface accidentally looks very much like Apple’s, not like something else. The current iteration of the CanLII interface doesn’t occupy the Apple position.