Free Access to Legislation: How Do They Do It?

The Toronto Association of Law Libraries (TALL) hosted a Publishers’ Forum at the University of Toronto Law School last week entitled “Free Access to Legislation: How Do They Do It?”

The meeting was well attended by TALL members.

Publishers making presentations to the forum included representatives for the Department of Justice Laws website, CanLII, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario website, and Ontario e-Laws.

All four of these sites and their developers are to be applauded. Although not necessarily the intent of the session, I came away with a better sense of appreciation for their hard work on what are relatively meagerly funded/staffed resources (and for most of these sites, they manage with often only a handful of people doing the hands-on work).

The staff clearly do not control if and when a government will pass a large omnibus bill, and for those omnibus bills with a lot of amendments, this can really impact their resources since it takes them longer to deal with so many amendments.

And although the federal Department of Justice has made huge strides in the last few years to improve recency, the fact is that the staff cannot (legally) “get ahead” of the publications schedule for the Canada Gazette, Part II, which is typically in a 2-week cycle.

CanLII remains impressive despite their challenges of dealing with the “technical” problems caused when provinces publish their legislation in PDF (thereby interfering with their ability to make “point-in-time” legislation work). I continue to maintain that CanLII should be more broadly funded (rather than primarily resting on being subsidized by charges to individual lawyers through their law society fees) (I end up paying twice since I am a member of two law societies . . . .). Although lawyers are obviously heavy users, the site benefits everyone and should be more broadly funded.

The work of the Ontario Digitization Initiative (discussed earlier here on SLAW) on digitizing older Ontario legislative material is progressing nicely. There was some discussion on the importance of a usable interface to all of this great content so that users are not forced to find their single page of interest in a massive 2,000 page, 300 MB PDF file.

Finally, credit goes to the TALL Executive for planning these sessions. They are very useful.


  1. Thanks, Ted, for highlighting the good work done at Justice and University of Montreal to offer access to the law.

    CANLII, or more accurately, LexUM, hosts the Canadian e-Discovery Working Group where The Sedona Canada Principles can be found as well as a digest of e-discovery cases with CANLII links.

    The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII, pronounced like the old court house)and the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AUSTLII)offer similar services.