Trusting the System

By now, you have probably read that the Alberta Courts public facing judgments database is no longer an active search page, and instead redirects seekers to CanLII.

Bill Clinton is attributed with saying “The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” Jack Welch advised, “Change before you have to.” Some other very clever person came up with, “People do not resist change. They resist being changed.”

My opinion on people resisting being changed is that there is far less resistance when there is trust. Trust that the change is not a change in philosophy, but rather a change in process. The philosophy of providing publicly accessible court decisions from all levels of court in Alberta has not changed. CanLII is committed to providing free access to the law including court decisions.

One thing that must change is links back to the Alberta Court Judgments Database. While it would have been lovely to have some notice about this change before it happened, that ship has sailed. Now we all just have to get with the program and manage the change that has been imposed on us. My Slaw Tip last week gave some advice on how to deal with this change.

As late as this morning, there are plenty of websites that refer to the Alberta Courts Judgment Database – including law library pages in Alberta and beyond, other court sites, and my personal favourite, the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General website:

Remember that you can search using Google for references to something by adding a site at the end of your search string: “Alberta courts judgments database”


  1. Addison Cameron-Huff

    Although it may seem like there’s no difference between Canlii and the Alberta Courts website, there’s a big difference in terms of licensing. Canlii has more restrictive licensing terms than any Canadian court website that I’ve seen. Canlii has a general prohibition on automated downloading/collection of cases which is what you’d need to do in order to academic-minded research on the body of Alberta court decisions (like this study of ~4300 Supreme Court decisions [by me]:

    This might seem like a technical issue but the application of software to legal decisions is a rapidly growing field around the world. Getting rid of public access to all the decisions makes it much harder or impossible for people to create new ways of looking at our country’s jurisprudence.

    Canlii terms:
    Alberta Courts terms:

    Here are a few more thoughts about the problem that this move from court-published to Canlii-published decisions has created in Ontario:

  2. Hi Addison,

    A few quick comments on your note and an invitation to discuss your concerns in greater detail.

    As an organization, the Canadian Legal Information Institute strives to make legal information as widely available and accessible as possible. The investment of all provincial and territorial law societies (by way of member dues and through the oversight of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada) in the creation, sustainment and future development of CanLII provides the legal profession and public with a free-to-use resource that has few peers around the world. 9.5 million visits last year and growing dependence on CanLII from the legal profession, the public, the courts and the government are just a few indicators that we are doing something right.

    During my time as CanLII’s CEO over the past four years, I’ve worked with our Board of Directors to advance the quality and usefulness of CanLII as both a service and as a resource for further innovation. In that time we’ve added nearly 100 additional tribunal and resource collections, entered the world of secondary sources with an employment law text from Lancaster House and through the creation of CanLII Connects, and we’ve made it possible for developers to build solutions and apps on top of CanLII content through an open API. We are just getting started and hope to accomplish – and enable – some amazing things in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

    You note (correctly, I’ll readily admit) that CanLII’s usage terms are more restrictive than most courts. Why? Quite simply, because some courts and Queen’s Printers are more restrictive than others and over the course of CanLII’s development since 2000, some of these courts have imposed restrictive terms on CanLII and limited what it can do and what it can authorize others to do with the content they provide or otherwise permit CanLII to publish on its site. In CanLII’s formative years, there was little choice but to accept these terms. I’d like to say that changing times has encouraged content suppliers to change their views, but not everyone has been prepared to move at the same pace. As recently as two months ago, I had to decline an offer to publish an important collection from an important tribunal because the terms demanded of us would have imposed limitations on the use of that content beyond what we considered reasonable from the perspective of our users.

    A site that seeks to offer a clean and simple approach to access and use of information, including a consistent users experience and scope of usage rights, is constrained by the limitations imposed by the most restrictive licensor of the content in the database. Please be assured that we are not satisfied with the limitations and that we have sought and continue to seek to reduce the scope and impact of these limitations. As one example, after two years of effort, we successfully convinced one Queens Printer to release us from an incredibly restrictive license and to move to an open government license. We’ve also attenuated the impact of some other very challenging license terms through ongoing negotiations and identifying the occasional circumstance where seeking forgiveness (within the bounds of the law, of course) was a better approach than seeking permission. Our efforts and our priorities are to move all resources to the most open of terms rather than continue to be bound by the most restrictive.

    We know that we have a resource that can enable exciting academic research, and we have, in fact, entered into arrangements with academics at universities to make that possible. We want to do more and we want to make it easier. But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we see a future where unfettered bulk downloads of the content are possible. There are several reasons, but search “globe24h” for articles on Slaw, and features in the Globe and Mail, Financial Post and CBC to see just one of the reasons why courts aren’t going to be in a hurry to make all decisions widely available to everyone for any purpose. I’m not trying to hide behind that as an excuse, I offer it up to give you a sense of the reality we have to navigate as we move to the most open form of access achievable.

    Addison, I’m happy to speak any time.

    Colin Lachance
    CEO, CanLII

  3. Thank you Colin for taking the time to write such a lengthy and thoughtful reply. This is how to do CEO right.

    Although we’ve discussed this briefly on Twitter, I think your six paragraph reply deserves more than a tweet. In order to avoid hijacking Shaunna’s post further I’ve written my reply here: