Canadian Association of Law Libraries: Could Federal Budget Affect Access to Legislative Information?

Legal researchers and law librarians have long worried about the lack of a coherent strategy in Canada to ensure the digital preservation and archiving of legal and governmental information. A case in point is Louis Mirando’s Slaw.ca post of Feb. 15th , 2013 on Library Budgets and Priorities: A New Year and a New Normal:

(…) when will we begin an organized, comprehensive preservation/digitization project for our historical law collections? Preservation must procede hand-in-hand with digital access. The Internet Archive and Hathi Trust (for monographs), and JSTOR and Ontario’s Scholars Portal (for journals – unfortunately not open-access) are a start, but we need something for Law. The recently-announced LIPA (Legal Information Preservation Alliance)-NELLCO (New England Law Library Consortium) PalmPrint collaborative initiative is a giant step in this direction and a great model for Canada. In addition to the obvious benefits for our libraries, both in law firms and law schools, nothing could contribute more directly and immediately to access to legal information and access to justice generally than a freely-accessible, web-based collection of pre-1990 Canadian legal materials, both primary and secondary.

Recent trends have only increased the level of concern about the preservation and archiving of both older, historical documents and current publications.

Annette L. Demers, President-Elect of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, wrote last week to the Canadian government outlining her fears that federal budget cuts could affect long-term access to Canadian legal information:

Publications currently slated for migration to electronic-only formats include the Debates of the House of Commons and the Debates of the Senate, the Journals of the House of Commons and the Journals of the Senate, bills, Committee Reports and other Parliamentary publications. So far, the Gazette, the Statutes of Canada, the Supreme Court Reports, the Federal Court Reports and the Treaty Series will continue to be disseminated in print. Although the DSP [Depository Services Program of Public Works and Government Services Canada] will continue to disseminate information through publications.gc.ca, there is no evidence that the government has a long-term strategy for archiving legislative information.

The 2013 budget now promises more of the same, by promising that ‘the Government will take steps to modernize the production and distribution of government publications by shifting to electronic publishing and making print publications the exception. The President of the Treasury Board will develop and implement new procedures that will require all publications to be available electronically and will allow printing only under specific circumstances,’ and fails to provide any hard web-archiving strategy. The Treasury Board’s current web archiving strategy absolutely is not designed to provide Canadian Citizens with perpetual historical access to essential government documents (…)

(…) the government’s responsibility to provide access to the law and to legislative information should be considered constitutionally protected as a necessary precondition to fundamental justice. Legislative information is the spring from which all rights flow in our democracy.

If implemented without a comprehensive, properly resourced, long-term strategy to preserve legislative information, these budget cuts and policy directions will have an irreversible effect on our democracy for years to come.

There seem to be many very promising and exciting initiatives undertaken in and outside of government that deal with bits and pieces of the overall puzzle, for example see the Slaw.ca post on Full Collection of Digitized Federal Hansards by 2015? But a full comprehensive national strategy that covers the full breadth of materials of interest has yet to emerge.

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Comments

  1. Good post, Michel-Adrien, and thanks for sharing the letter from CALL.

    In this context, I highly recommend Canadians—librarians and researchers in particular— read this guest post on the US site Free Government Information. The post is from Amanda Wakaruk, a government information librarian from U of Alberta:
    Searching for a savior: who will serve as steward of Canadian government information?

    Some excerpts:

    …there is no publicly available evidence that the GoC has implemented or plans to implement a comprehensive web archiving plan before reducing its web footprint.

    As a practitioner, I run into the problem of missing (i.e., unarchived) born digital content on a regular basis. (And no, Library and Archives Canada is not collecting websites for public consumption – these programs stopped in 2009.) The question I lost sleep over last year is more pressing than ever: who is archiving the web content of the GoC?

    The bigger question, of course, is this: If not the government, then who is responsible for collecting and preserving the born digital content of the GoC? If it *is* the academic sector’s responsibility then where will the funding come from? Recent provincial budget cuts in Ontario and Alberta have been hard on this sector, to say the least. If there is a White Knight out there, now would be a great time to step forward!

  2. And, still in this context, be sure you’ve read Shaunna Mireau’s recent post: http://www.slaw.ca/2013/04/16/using-archives-collections-for-legal-research/