So try this: create a link to section 650 of a freely available online version of the Criminal Code. Basic law, basic task in this digital age, right?
Unless I’ve missed something obvious, which is the best sort of thing to miss, it ain’t so easy nowadays. There are two online sources of the Code: CanLII’s and the Department of Justice’s, which are actually just one version because CanLII publishes what the DOJ provides.
But let’s start with the CanLII version. There’s the whole statute with no table of contents. And that’s it. A search within for “650,” of course, turns up all manner of mentions of that number, and wouldn’t give us a usable URL in any case.
Now the federal site. Here there is a table of contents, but unless you’re a frequent user of the Code, you’re going to have to shuffle around a bit because the TOC has no section numbers, just section heads and cut lines. Stabbing at where you think s.650 might be, will bring up any old section, and if you’re persistent you’ll see that at the bottom of the “any old” page there’s a drop-down list that offers you links to groups of sections by number. So we “Go to…” “573 … 672”. Scroll down to s.650. Now what?
Well, there’s no help from the location bar of your browser, obviously, because it reads: “http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/C-46/page-3.html”. But if you’re adventurous, you’ll see that the number and the cutline above it are hyperlinks — to the version of the target section in the other language. Undaunted, you press on: click the number link to the French (in my case); once there, click the number link back to the English, and voila! Section 650 sits proudly at the top of my browser window, and I purloin the URL from the location bar.
This is nonsense. Does it need to be pointed out to the people who publish our laws that documents are constructed and now shared in digital form, with the consequence that pinpoint citation demands hyperlinks to the very section of the Code under discussion?
CanLII — and, indeed, everyone who publishes statutes and caselaw — should add paragraph links automatically to every paragraph of the document. It’s not technically difficult and it needn’t be obtrusive: a hash mark link text, for example, can be made to appear only when you mouse over the end of a paragraph. This would enable us, where no tables of contents exist, to link directly to the appropriate point within a document.
(And while I’m on this topic, let me say that it’s time for the courts to hyperlink the references in their judgments. It hasn’t been a big deal to create digital text for decades now, so the laurels are getting a bit crushed. Time to catch up.)
Because the difficulty of getting a URL for a Criminal Code section struck me as silly, I’ve taken the un-numbered federal TOC and added section numbers to it. It’s not perfect because it doesn’t have all of the section numbers, but I have simplified the URLs and outlined the fairly easy method of modifying them so as to get your target link easily. I’ve put this on a page in Slaw, where you’ll also find a link to a PDF file of the table suitable for downloading. I’ve no idea how long this hack will be effective; a change in the Code structure may make parts of this unworkable. But I hope that things can be properly mended by the powers that be before that happens.