Legal Research

Changes Underway at CanLII

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By Gregory Walen, Q.C.

Most members of the Law Society of Saskatchewan are familiar with the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). For those not so familiar, CanLII is a not-for-profit organization whose sole shareholder is the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. Since 2001, CanLII has operated and maintained a website providing members of the legal profession and the public-at-large a virtual  Library of Canadian legal information.

At present, CanLII operates with a skillsbased, expert board of directors appointed by the Federation of Law Societies. Prior to the Federation moving in this direction, the board of directors was
comprised of representatives from all law societies. The Federation felt that a skills-based board of directors would be better suited to carry out their vision of CanLII’s future. Of note, Tom Schonhoffer, Q.C., our former Executive Director of the Law Society, was recently appointed to the Board.

The success of CanLII as an on-line research engine for lawyers cannot be overstated. This comment on its website sums it up:

“With one million documents across 200 databases, CanLII is closer than ever to achieving the dreams of its founders to become the best place for lawyers and all Canadians to consult Canadian law.”

Since its inception, CanLII has relied upon a company called Lexum, a software company delivering online management and publication of legal information. That legal information mostly consists of cases from all levels of court in every province and territory in Canada. Without Lexum and its proprietary software, many would argue that CanLII would cease to exist, at least in its present  successful state.

Of course, CanLII contracting with Lexum did not come cheap. The cost of contracting the services of Lexum was not an insignificant portion of CanLII’s annual budget. Ultimately, it is every member of every law society in Canada that funds CanLII through an annual levy which we pay through our law society membership fees. In the 2018 year, members of all law societies across Canada (excluding the Barreau du Quebec and the Chambre de Notaire) will pay or have paid a levy of $41.94 for CanLII’s operations.

Needless to say that over the years some of us have had concerns that CanLII’s future essentially rested with its ongoing contractual relations with Lexum, a company that also provided software solutions to other organizations. Those concerns appeared to have disappeared in the later part of 2017 when an opportunity arose for CanLII to acquire a 100 per cent interest in Lexum.  Negotiations took place over many months and, on February 28, 2018, the Federation announced that the deal was sealed and CanLII was now the owner of its own service supplier.

In announcing the acquisition, the Federation President, Sheila MacPherson said

“CanLII has grown from a pilot project to become the indispensable goto legal research tool for Canada’s legal profession…The acquisition of Lexum marks an important milestone in the history of CanLII positioning both to take on future challenges in a competitive legal information marketplace.”

So where to from here? It is my view that CanLII will move on to be the Canadian legal profession’s most utilized legal research tool, if it has not already reached that status. I suspect we may see a move towards publication of secondary sources such as digests and texts supplementing CanLII’s focus on primary sources of law.

[Originally published in Benchers’ Digest, Spring 2018]

Regina Public Library’s Legal Speaker Series 2018

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By Alan Kilpatrick

The Regina Public Library is hosting its third annual Legal Speaker Series on Saturday, February 10th from 10:00am – 4:30pm at the George Bothwell Branch.

Drop in between these hours to attend a variety of free workshops on common legal issues, and to learn more about your legal rights. Some sessions require registration.  Volunteer lawyers with Pro Bono Law will be offering 30 minutes of free legal advice. Appointments must be pre-booked directly with Pro Bono Law.

The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library is excited to participate in the event again this year and to connect with members of the public. I will be hosting a workshop on “Doing Your Own Legal Research” for self-represented litigants from 11:15am – 12:15pm:

11:15 – 12:15 – Doing Your Own Legal Research
Doing your own legal research for a court case can be intimidating, especially if you have no formal legal training. However, there is help out there for people wanting to represent themselves. Join reference librarian Alan Kilpatrick from the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library to learn about CanLII, a free legal service that can be accessed by anyone via the Internet. The presentation contains federal and provincial case law, legislation, and more.

Do you need to learn how to conduct your own legal research? Are you just curious about Canadian law? Don’t miss this exciting session with the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library!

We look forward to seeing you there!  Click here to learn more.

Adding Foundational Case Law to CanLII

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By Sarah Sutherland
Manager, Content and Partnerships
Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) 

Since CanLII’s founding, we have been working to make sure the law you need is available. As part of our project to add the Dominion Law Reports cases that have been cited in CanLII case collection that we announced last year, we are including historical cases that are foundational to understanding the context of Canadian law, including Browne v Dunn (1893), 6 R 67 (HL), which we are informed was the most requested case at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Great Library (Thank you to David Whelan for letting us know this was the case and sharing the scanned copy from the Great Library’s print collection!).

A Primer to Legislative Research Across the Provinces and Territories

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By Alan Kilpatrick

In Spring 2017, the Vancouver Association of Law Libraries (VALL) published a Canada-wide legislative research primer in their association’s quarterly publication, the VALL Review (Spring 2017, Volume 29, No. 2).

Legislative research is a major component of law librarian’s labour.  Publication of the primer is timely and apt.  It will be well used by legal information professionals.  I would like to commend VALL for its leadership in developing this excellent resource.

A Primer to Legislative Research Across the Provinces and Territories was collaboratively developed by some amazing law librarians from Canada’s provinces and territories:

British Columbia
Emily Nickerson, Research Librarian
Norton Rose Fullbright Canada LLP

Megan Siu, Community Development & Education Specialist
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta

Alan Kilpatrick, Librarian
Law Society of Saskatchewan Library

Karen Sawatzky, Director of Legal Resources
Law Society of Manitoba

Brenda Lauritzen, Reference Librarian
County of Carleton Law Association

Prince Edward Island
Pam Borden, Library Manager
Law Society of PEI Library

Newfoundland and Labrador
Brenda Blundon, Law Librarian
Department of Justice and Public Safety

Jenny Thornhill, Law Librarian
Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador

Nova Scotia
Janet Arsenault, Librarian
Justice Canada

Natalie Wing, Law Librarian
Yukon Public Law Library

Northwest Territories
Stef Alexandru, Librarian
Lawson Lundell LLP

Alexandria Everitt, Librairan
Harris & Company LLP

Riel Gallant, Legislative Librarian
Nunavut Legislative Library

VALL has graciously allowed us to republish their primer on Legal Sourcery.


Some New Changes at CanLII

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By Sarah SutherlandManager, Content and Partnerships
Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII)

As we transition into summer, we thought we’d take the opportunity to refresh your memory as to what’s new at CanLII.

New Board members

In November 2016, Professor Adam Dodek, Crystal O’Donnell, Shannon Salter, and Thomas Schonhoffer, Q.C. joined the CanLII board. The board will be chaired by Dominic Jaar, Ad. E. They will help us further our goal of making legal materials more accessible to the public.

More information on this can be found here.

New features

We have made several changes on the main CanLII site and on CanLII Connects.


  • LexBox is now fully integrated into CanLII: For those who haven’t used the LexBox extension that Lexum offers for the Chrome browser, LexBox allows users to save search queries, set up alerts for new content that matches a search query, create folders with saved results, and offers a trail of your research. Until now, users were required to download the extension to save search queries on CanLII. This is no longer the case. See here for more details.
  • The blue “Headnotes” button at the top of each case is now dynamic: This means it alerts you with a warning sign  (  )  when there are either related decisions in our database from the same level of court as the decision you are consulting, or we have found a related decision from a higher court. Previously, this information was only available after clicking the button.
  • The highlighting (i.e. find in document) feature now allows you to change which words you want highlighted in a decision: Previously, the tool did not allow for changes mid-search. Now, you can edit your highlights by clicking on the little pencil at the top right of the document page.

Most notable on CanLII Connects include:

  • The ability to post multimedia content: We recognize that commentary comes in many forms, and as such we welcome content in forms such as podcasts or videos. If this form of legal commentary appeals to you, just pick the embed option when you are creating content and paste the html embed code from hosting sites such as YouTube or Vimeo in the text box.
  • The ability to save searches and set up e-mails: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but basically, just save your search after you run it, and you will get a daily update of new content.
  • The ability to indicate negative treatment on a case: This new feature is still in its early stages, but promises to be an exciting development on CanLII Connects. Each case present on CanLII Connects now has the ability to be flagged by verified users to indicate that the case has received negative treatment by another case. All verified users are active members of the legal community. We will keep you posted on further developments of this feature.

We expanded our content

In furtherance of our goal of access to justice and for legal content to be publically accessible, we have partnered with multiple entities to increase our content. Most notable include:

  • New “Smart PDFs” from Lexum have allowed us to upload 16,000 decisions from the Dominion Law Reports (DLR). The DLR are the second most cited block of cases on CanLII after the Supreme Court Reporter. The strategically chosen cases from the DLR represent all the decisions that have been cited in the cases contained in the CanLII collection when we started this project. This is more or less equivalent to saying that we have all the decisions in the DLR that have been cited in approximately the last 15 years in Canada or in any earlier case in the Supreme Court Reports (SCR). Some Privy Council decisions were included in this set, so we also set up a new database for this content. More information on this can be found here.
  • An expanded partnership with CAIJ, which allowed us to post thousands of decisions issued between 1980-2015 from Quebec administrative tribunals including: 36 500 decisions from the Commission d’appel en matière de lésions professionnelles (CALP), 41 500 decisions from the Commission des lésions professionnelles (CLP), 17 000 decisions from the Tribunal administratif du Québec (TAQ) and 28 000 decisions from the Commission de protection du territoire agricole du Québec (CPTAQ).
  • We introduced a new way to publish commentary. CanLII has expanded to include some secondary materials on our website. Thanks to Lexum’s Qweri software which powers this new innovation, you can now read legal commentary in a more elegant format with content that is easier to search and navigate. Looking forward, we will have more ebooks later this year. If all goes well we will have law reviews, CLE materials, and law reform commission reports by the end of 2017. We are also working on a program to allow individual authors and organizations (or teams of authors) to submit long form commentary (books or articles) to be considered for publication on To see more on this, click here.

Unreported, You Say?

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By Ken Fox

From time to time at the library we get requests for “unreported” decisions. What do folks mean by unreported?

These days, you usually mean that a case is difficult to find, that it is not available on CanLII for instance. This is very reasonable – you take a phrase you have heard, and apply it to a situation in a way that makes sense.

Traditionally, unreported means something different with respect to case law. The court issues written reasons for its judgments, and legally-trained editors working for private publishing companies select cases for printing based on their importance, uniqueness, and court level. Cases printed in law reports (i.e., “reported”) were not only more accessible than unreported cases (i.e., those not selected for inclusion in a law report), but more authoritative, with some courts only allowing reported cases to be cited.

So (you ask) in the past, private publishers decided which cases were important, and thereby played a significant role in the creation of the common law? Yes they did, and to a certain extent they still do.

Unreported decisions existed only in copies issued from the courts, and photocopies of them were generally collected in court house libraries. At the Law Society Library in both Regina and Saskatoon we still have collections of unreported Saskatchewan judgments going back to the 1960s.

But technology changes things. In the traditional sense of “unreported,” CanLII hosts hundreds of such cases. For example, look at the citation info in this one – there is a neutral cite, but no reference to Saskatchewan Reports (Sask R), Western Weekly Reports (WWR), or any other print law report. The case is unreported, but easily accessible.

In 2014, Susannah Tredwell speculated that online publishing of case law has created a new kind of unreported decision: “those judgments that the courts do not make easily available.” This type includes oral judgments, and any other judicial decision for which no written reasons are released.

I don’t know the exact name of this phenomenon – semantic drift? – but it seems to me the meaning of “unreported” is changing. The publishing companies have little or no say in what cases are available – that power is now the courts’ alone.

In addition to changing the availability of case law, the existence of comprehensive, free sources such as CanLII, CommonLII, WorldLII and Google has eroded the authority of the print reporting system. As far back as 2005, Nick Pengelley mused that there might no longer be an authoritative distinction between reported and unreported case law. In 2009, Ted Tjaden suggested that Canadian courts, contra England, may adopt a more flexible, discretionary approach to what judgments can and should be cited in court.

So (you ask), this is the end of the centuries-old law reporting system? Really? Well, it’s not for me to say, but – yes.

How do you access unreported decisions?

In Saskatchewan, everything for which there are written reasons from 2000 forward is on CanLII. If you are looking for one of those “unreported” decisions in the newer sense of the term, you might need to contact a court registry office or one of the lawyers involved in the case. The Saskatchewan courts provide instructions on how to access court records.

From before 2000, practically all reported (in the old sense) Saskatchewan cases are now on CanLII. For unreported cases, try a subscription service such as WestlawNext or Quicklaw. Failing that, contact us, and we’ll do our best. If it’s from the 1960s or later, we might have it in a filing cabinet.

On the question of terminology – well, for me “reported” still means the case includes a citation to a printed law report. Call me Old School if you like, I won’t mind. And if you are one of those folks who call any difficult-to-find case “unreported” – then (1) I won’t correct you, and (2) I may someday join you – because one thing I’ve learned is that history’s greatest fools are the ones who try to stand in the way of change, and I just don’t want to be that guy.


Saskatchewan Law Grad Talks about Legal AI

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tedtalkBy Alan Kilpatrick

Did you catch Andrew Arruda’s TED Talk?  TED Talks brings together diverse speakers to discuss exciting and emerging issues in the world today.

Arruda (JD’14) is a recent University of Saskatchewan College of Law graduate.  In his talk, Arruda speaks about the potential of an artificially intelligent (AI) lawyer to democratize the law, reduce legal costs, and to make the practice of law cheaper for all.  To accomplish this goal, Arruda worked with a computer scientist to create ROSS, the world’s first AI lawyer.  I encourage you to watch the video yourself.

The primary argument Arruda makes is that an AI lawyer can help reduce legal research time and consequently lower the fees incurred as a result of legal research.  Time spent on legal research, Arruda explains, is the biggest barrier to hiring a lawyer. Lawyers spend twenty or thirty hours on legal research and spend hundreds of dollars each month to access legal databases.  ROSS will allow lawyers to get away from legal research.

While I am skeptical an AI lawyer can actually do what Arruda claims, the idea is intriguing.  At the Law Society Library, we are continually on the lookout for the latest legal resource technology for our members.  Our goal at the Law Society Library is to provide members with the newest digital resources anywhere in the province.  Today you can access WestlawNext through the Members’ Section right on your computer’s desktop.  Tomorrow, will you be able to access an AI lawyer?