Repost with Permission from The CanLII Blog
In this post from last year about new changes to CanLII Connects, we announced that our users can now mark cases as having received negative treatment, or as containing negative treatment about another case. Over the last year we have tweaked that feature based on user behaviour.
What does this mean exactly?
Just to get everybody up to speed, CanLII Connects is a companion site to CanLII.org where users can post summaries or commentaries about cases in the CanLII collection. Each decision in our collection has a page where our users can post comments or summaries. If you have never visited CanLII Connects, you can see it here, and we invite you to look for the numerous links and visual clues on CanLII.org.
Let’s explain this new feature with an example: when an important case like (in 2015) Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) is published, CanLII Connects (and the legal web in Canada, more generally) erupts with a storm of commentaries and summaries. One thing that our contributors didn’t fail to point out is that Carter was a departure from the SCC’s 1993 decision in Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General).
The following posts, among others, discussed the change from Rodriguez to Carter explicitly:
- A Turn in Tide: Carter versus Rodriguez
- Supreme Court of Canada Strikes Down Prohibition against Physician-Assisted Dying in Carter v Canada
However, neither of these two commentaries were cross-posted as comments on the Rodrigez case’s page (just to be clear: contributors can do this, but we don’t expect it), where they are, in a sense, more necessary.
Indeed, imagine Alice, an hypothetical legal researcher who is absolutely new to the issue of assisted suicide and has no knowledge at all of the history or state of the law about this issue. Imagine that Alice starts researching today about assisted suicide, and for some reason stumbles on the Rodrigez case, but not Carter.
At the same time, Bob, another hypothetical legal researcher is also searching on assisted suicide (and is also completely new to this field of law) and finds Carter but not Rodriguez.
Who would benefit the most from a CanLII Connects post that informs the reader that Carter is a departure from Rodriguez? Alice of course, because she only found the older case and could certainly use a little heads-up about the more recent one. In contrast, by stumbling on Carter instead of Rodriguez, Bob has the full story since Carter refers to Rodriguez.
Theoretically, CanLII Connects contributors could publish the same post in both places (as a comment on Carter and as a comment on Rodriguez), but it may not be the case that the discussion of an earlier case is that central to the more recent one (there are 44 occurrences of the word “Rodriguez” in Carter).
With this new feature, CanLII Connects users can now use a new and streamlined form to “flag” cases in our collection as having received negative treatment in another case (and vice versa), as illustrated by this GIF:
When a case is flagged (as I did with the Rodriguez case) there’s a mention of that next to the case’s name in the case’s page on CanLII Connects:
Note that you don’t need to be publishing content to CanLII Connects in order to “flag” cases for negative treatment. Any CanLII Connects registered user can flag cases without writing about them as this is a separate form. If you are not a CanLII Connects registered user yet because you don’t want to publish summaries or commentaries (or lack the time), you now have a simpler way to contributing to the community, so don’t hesitate to get an account!
That being said if you are a regular CanLII Connects contributor, and you are posting a summary of comment about a case that is overturning (or, more generally, negatively treating) an earlier one, the form for posting your comment/summary now has a place to tell us just that, and we would be grateful if you could use it.
What types of negative treatment can be flagged?
Judging only from the nomenclature in the Supreme Court headers, cases can be reversed, overturned, overruled, distinguished, not followed, disapproved, criticized etc.
While it’s easy to determine that a case in the lower courts has been reversed by an appeal court in the same matter (and still, a lower court decision may only have been reversed in part), qualifying the type of negative treatment between two unrelated cases (where the older case’s applicability as a precedent is under consideration in the later case) is highly subjective. Carter and Rodriguez are good examples of this subjectivity: Carter is pretty much a complete turnaround on the assisted suicide issue, yet the headnote in Carter lists Rodriguez as having been distinguished (which seems like the Supreme Court’s way of saying that Rodriguez wasn’t wrong and is not to be overturned, but that there are changes “in the circumstances or evidence that fundamentally shifts the parameters of the debate” that justify reaching an entirely different conclusion on the central issue).
Therefore, our form does not ask you to qualify the type of negative treatment the earlier case received. We do ask for an explanation in the description field of the form (which could be as simple as pasting the relevant paragraph in the more recent case, as we did in the above GIF demo), but we won’t publish this information: it’s just to help us make sure that flags are valid. In case you are of the shy type: other users won’t see who indicated that a case received negative treatment, but we may one day create a hall of fame of those contributors who have flagged the most content and include you, with your consent.
In summary, we ask that users tell us when a case received negative treatment of any sort in a later case (or vice versa) as a heads up to our users that the earlier case should not be relied on without at least reading the more recent decision.
Where are we going with this?
We know that this feature (or perhaps we should say “experiment” really) will not spontaneously generate a comprehensive database of all cases having received negative treatment in the CanLII collection, but we hope to be able to gather enough references over time to make it a useful tool, or to help us build useful tools (e.g. if we use the results from this crowdsourcing experiment as a sample to a machine learning experiment). We’re also experimenting with ways to complement the information we obtain from CanLII Connects contributors with programmatic means of finding negative treatment. One day, indications of negative treatment may appear on CanLII.org.
In conclusion, if you stumble upon case that should be “flagged”, please “pay it forward” and tell us about it. Your fellow CanLII users, as well as members of the public, could greatly benefit from the exercise in the long run. More selfishly, just see this as a way to help your future self in the event that you (or someone in your team) stumble again on the same “negatively treated” case.
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.
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.
- 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 CanLII.org. To see more on this, click here.
By Alan Kilpatrick
Are you using CanLII Connects for your legal research? CanLII Connects is a phenomenal website that features high-quality legal commentary and summaries of Canadian court decisions. It’s a continually growing source of authoritative legal commentary that is free, accessible, and open to anyone. Currently, the site boasts summaries of thousands of Canadian decisions dating back to the 1800s.
CanLII Connects is more than just a website. It’s a community resource. It brings together members of the legal community and provides a space to share their analysis and opinions of court decisions. The commentary found on CanLII Connects is created by members of the legal community. Only qualified members of the legal community and registered users of this site are permitted to post. This maintains quality.
From the homepage, summaries can be quickly sorted by jurisdiction, date, or author. This makes it easy to find summaries from a particular province or contributor. Each summary is linked directly to the full text case on CanLII. Conversely, cases on CanLII are linked to any summaries available on CanLII Connects.
CanLII Connects has made big waves and received some prestigious awards including the Canadian lawyer Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award and the Canadian Law Blog Award.
The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library has been a major supporter of CanLII Connects since it was launched in April 2014. To date, the Law Society Library has submitted almost 25,000 summaries of Saskatchewan court decisions to CanLII Connects. This represents our entire collection of case digests. As you may know, the Law Society Library employs a number of contract digesters to summarize and digest Saskatchewan court decisions. These digests appear in Case Mail, our popular semi-monthly newsletter, and in the Saskatchewan Cases database.
We have been proud to support CanLII Connects. It is an impressive endeavour that signifies major changes to the world of legal information and publishing.
Canadian Lawyer magazine has announced the winners for its 1st Annual Readers’ Choice Awards. Congratulations to CanLII for being named one of three top choices in the “Online Legal Research – Primary Law” category and to CanLII Connects in the “Online Legal Research – Secondary Content & Analysis” category. We couldn’t agree more!
By Melanie Hodges Neufeld
CanLII Connects is celebrating the one year anniversary of its launch this month. It began last April with nearly 27,000 case summaries and commentaries and has now increased to almost 35,000. That is an increase of approximately 25 a day! Included is the entire Law Society of Saskatchewan case digest collection. The folks at CanLII Connects add the following:
CanLII Connects now has content for more than 32,000 decisions going back to the 19th century including summaries of nearly every major case covered in first year law school courtesy of the work of hundreds of law students. (numbers are approximate as they change daily)
The innovation of CanLII Connects to collect community created commentary creates a way to integrate legal blog content into the legal research process better by linking it directly to and from case law and content from other writers. We have been gratified to have CanLII Connects’ innovation recognized by others. We won a Clawbie award for the best legal blog aimed at a non-lawyer audience, with identified room to protest that it is aimed at lawyers too. And we launched with national news coverage, which has continued since then.
Congratulations on a promising first year. We look forward to what’s ahead. If you haven’t incorporated CanLII Connects into your research, check it out.
By Melanie Hodges Neufeld
It has been a while since we last highlighted CanLII Connects. The website has numerous legal commentary/summaries on a variety of Canadian court decisions, including thousands of Saskatchewan case digests provided by the Law Society Library. The top post on CanLII Connects last week was “Judges Speak Out About Self-Represented Litigants” . Other recent posts include:
- “Lawyers’ Representation, Lawyers’ Regulation and Section 7 of the Charter” Canada (AG) v Federation of Law Societies of Canada, 2015 SCC 7
- “Accommodation goes both ways for employers, employees” Cape Breton v Canada Union of Public Employees, 2014 NSSC 97
- “Can Wife’s Stepfather, a Suspended Former Lawyer, Represent Her in Court?” Scarlett v Farrell, 2014 ONCJ 194
- “Soft Law and Religious Freedom: Ishaq v Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, 2015 FC 156”
Recent Saskatchewan posts include:
- “A Constitutional Right to Free Transcripts?” Taylor v St. Denis, 2015 SKCA 1
- “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch – Alleged Incompetence of Counsel” Hordyski v R, 2014 SKCA 102
- “Quashing Parts of Administrative Decisions” Agrium Vanscoy Potash Operations v United Steel Workers Local 7552, 2014 SKCA 79
- “Finding More “Meaning” in the Future of Labour Law” Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v Saskatchewan, 2015 SCC 4
By Melanie Hodges Neufeld
On December 2 at noon, I will be co-presenting a webinar with Colin Lachance, President and CEO of CanLII entitled “It’s Yours! Use It! – Reap the Benefits of Your Law Society’s Investment in CanLII”. There is still time to register. Here is a brief description. Join us tomorrow!
Rediscover the site you think you already know. There have been exciting developments for CanLII in the last year, particularly with respect to Saskatchewan case law coverage. Nearly 14,000 Saskatchewan cases have been added, providing almost complete coverage of reported decisions back to 1907. CanLII Connects, a website that offers legal commentary/summaries on Canadian court decisions, was also launched in April. Included on the website is the entire Law Society of Saskatchewan case digest collection.
This webinar will focus on these new developments and explore new features of both websites. The webinar will also provide news, tools and tips for using CanLII and CanLII Connects to improve your research efficiency.