CanLII: 2019 In Review

[Reposted with permission from The CanLII Blog, by Xavier Beauchamp-Tremblay]

2018 was a tough act to follow, but 2019 was, once again, a great year for CanLII, to say the least. More than ever, our successes are due to the relationships we have developed with organizations across the country that have embraced our vision for the future of free access to law. We are grateful they have agreed to share their content with us and hope to celebrate these relationships with this post, among other things.

Commentary

As regular readers of this blog will have appreciated by now, we’ve been multiplying announcements over the course of the year about new content added to the CanLII commentary collection. Here’s a list of what was added over the course of the year. Take some time to browse, we’ll see you on the other side:

And then, in a more or less chronological order of their announcements on the CanLII Blog, we have also partnered with the following journals, law firms, law centres and other organizations:

As the pace at which we make these announcements increases, it may be easy to become insensitive to them, but let me remind you that barely two years ago, only one of these announcements would have been individually hailed as a considerable achievement for free access to law. It speaks to how far and how fast we have moved that we can now happily interrupt the flow of this post with such a long list.

If you know people who work at the different institutions listed above, feel free to contact them to thank them for their contribution to our site or to learn how you can support them. Make sure to check their open call for papers to see if there’s anything you can contribute to in your area of expertise. They may also be on the lookout for volunteer editors or editorial board members, so there are many ways you can help.

Thanks to the contributors above, we’re now at more than 9,000 pieces of high quality content in the commentary collection. This is more than double what we had this time last year. 

Of course, when we say we now have 9,000 pieces of commentary, this is setting aside for a minute an entire category of quality content. We’re talking about the 55,000 pieces from CanLII Connects that have become more findable than ever

This means that when you go in CanLII.org, you are now searching into a total of roughly 65,000 pieces of commentary about the law, many of which are only found on CanLII. It’s almost impossible that there isn’t a piece of commentary on CanLII that is related to your field of practice, study, or activity. Perhaps we can allow ourselves a notice to law students: if this collection is not mentioned as part of your introduction to legal research class, we suggest you nudge your teacher to update the syllabus.

Another project that is evolving is the CanLII Authors Program. The program was built as an opportunity for authors of published or ready-to-be published texts to add their content to CanLII. After all, who doesn’t want to be findable on the most used legal search engine in Canada? Thing is, as a completely new concept (in Canada at least), we didn’t know if this would work. It’s gratifying to see that there are about 35 pieces that are published as part of the program, and the program’s page was an entry point for other pieces of content that ended up on CanLII over the year. If you have written content (whether or not it has been published elsewhere – assuming you haven’t given exclusive rights), we see only good reasons for authors to republish on CanLII as part of this program. Make sure to consult the (freshly redesigned and simplified) Authors Program page.

This year, we were grateful to have received a grant from the Law Foundation of British Columbia to create a publicly accessible litigation manual for British Columbians. Early September, we launched a call for writers and editors to contribute to the project. We were very pleased with the amount of interest and now have a motivated team of over 20 writers working together to make this resource a reality.

At last, we started implementing a new strategy for the curation of content for the commentary database. We have observed from running analytics on usage statistics (just to reassure you: we use aggregate stats, not individualized ones) that have identified some topics that are frequently searched for and underserved by our current content. Using this, we worked on identifying authors to write a piece on bankruptcy and family law. The piece written by Michael H. Tweyman & Kenneth Hildebrand was published on CanLII in September.

In November, we announced a collaboration with the well-known Slaw.ca blog to develop a collection of ebooks on content specifically identified to answer frequently searched topics.They have now been added to CanLII as a collaborative ebook collection.

Primary Law 

Improving our primary law coverage is always a key consideration and we continued to deliver on that front too.

Historical Projects

In May, we announced that we added over 8,000 cases from the Western Weekly Reports (WWR), a collection of significant cases from courts in the western provinces. 

In September, we added around 9,500 decisions from the Manitoba Reports as part of a project funded by the Manitoba Law Foundation. 

We will write more about what our historical scanning projects of the last few years (starting with the DLRs in 2016) mean for the scope of our collection today early in the year but don’t be blinded by the fact that there we less individual announcements than for the secondary materials: 17,500 new historical decisions on CanLII is a massive improvement and these collections in particular complement well what we did in previous years.

In November, we also announced that we had added the annual statutes for Alberta, from 1906 to present as part of a project funded by the Alberta Law Foundation.

The two projects funded by the Manitoba and Alberta law foundations are very impactful ones and we are grateful for their contribution to improving the availability of primary law from these provinces.

New databases

The following tribunals have been added to CanLII’s current coverage (in no specific order and with their respective neutral citation identifier in parentheses):

  • Edmonton Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (abesdab)
  • Building Code Commission (onbcc)
  • Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists (bcorl)
  • Yukon Residential Tenancies Office (ytrto)
  • Horse Racing Alberta Appeal Tribunal (abhraat)
  • Northwest Territories Assessment Appeal Tribunal (ntaat)
  • Corporation des maîtres électriciens du Québec (qccmeq)
  • Alberta Municipal Government Board (abmgb)
  • Alberta Edmonton Composite Assessment Review Board (abecarb)
  • Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (iccrc)
  • Calgary Assessment Review Board (abcgyarb)
  • Office de la langue française (qcolf)
  • Bureau du Commissaire de la construction (qcbcc)
  • Alberta Edmonton Local Assessment Review Board (abelarb)
  • College of Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Mental Health Therapists of Ontario (oncrpo)
  • College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario (oncdho)
  • Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (oncswssw)
  • Saskatchewan Municipal Board (sksmb)
  • Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (oncicb)

Features

As hinted above, the CanLII Connects content is still at the same home on canliiconnects.org, but is now findable through a search on canlii.org. This way you can see all of CanLII’s content at the same place. We are always happy to have new contributors on CanLII Connects (whether individuals or organizations) and make sure to contact us if you have an interest in helping us build the largest possible collection of summaries and commentaries about Canadian legal decisions.

In June, we have revamped the design of the CanLII.org website and we’re happy to have been able to modernize our looks without (as per the feedback we received at least) disrupting our users’ habits.

As you may have noticed, just before launching the redesigned website, we implemented a quick survey form (that we designed to be as non-obtrusive as possible) so we can collect more immediate feedback from our users and this is already bearing fruit in helping us assess new features or improvements.

In terms of features, there’s really fun stuff coming very early in the New Year which I’m personally giddy about. Stay tuned!

Policy

As part of our policy efforts (discussed in greater detail here) we have intervened jointly with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada before the Supreme Court in the Keatley v. Teranet matter. The hearing took place in March, and we were lucky to be represented on a pro bono basis by Rahool P. Agarwal and Khrystina McMillan of Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb.

The Court’s decision was issued in September and we’re happy the potential consequences on access to law were clearly considered by the Court, who issued a prudent judgment where the majority explicitly invited Parliament to reconsider s. 12 of the Copyright Act. If you want to know more, our friend Kim Nayyer’s summary is no doubt the best place to begin.

There wasn’t a specific or formal alliance between CanLII and the Canadian Association of Law Libraries but I can say personally that it was tremendously useful for me to have the opportunity to engage with members of the CALL/ACBD copyright committee, in particular the aforementioned Kim Nayyer and and Ken Fox, as we figured out our organization’s respective involvement in the Crown copyright discussion. Hat tip to them and thank you for your friendship.

Thought leadership

The CanLII staff continued to post on Slaw with Sarah Sutherland leading the charge. Alisa Lazear also posted a great piece on publishing with CanLII and I contribute my usual ramblings.

Governance / Staffing

Last but not least, we announced that Christina Hendricks was appointed to the CanLII board  and we’re happy to have Christina, an expert in open education resources (OER), among other things, to help us as we take inspiration from the OER community about the drafting of open resources.

On that note, if you are in a law school and you think there could be some interest in working with us in developing content, please reach out. If you are a law student and you would like your law school to create open resources instead of having to buy costly books, we can help you build your case.

Finally, in January we announced that Alisa Lazear had joined the CanLII team full time as our manager of community and content and we are very happy to have her in our team.

***

Phew! Might as well call that an annual report as opposed to a mere blog post. I hope you will agree that we had quite the year… again.

Before you all close your laptop for the Holidays, to:

Our users, to our stakeholders at the different law societies of Canada and at the Federation of law societies, to the staff and boards of the law foundations of Canada who have approved grants (for projects delivered this year or next), to our amazing volunteer board, to the amazing team at Lexum who makes it all happen, to our other amazing friends at Functional Labs, to our friends in law libraries, and to Miller Thomson who are helping us in different mandates of great importance: THANK YOU! We look forward to all of what we can accomplish together in the next… year decade!

SCC Historical Visit: Part #2 – The Supreme Court of Canada Blazes a New Trail in Winnipeg

by Alissa Schacter
Equity Officer and Policy Counsel, The Law Society of Manitoba

The country’s highest court exhibited boldness and initiative in its decision to sit outside of Ottawa for the first time in its 145-year history. Winnipeg had the great honour of hosting the nine Supreme Court judges during the last week of September.

The justices took up temporary residence in the Manitoba Court of Appeal. In addition to hearing a criminal and civil appeal, they had a jam packed schedule, which included meeting local high school students and law students, attending a reception with Mayor Bowman, hosting a Q&A event for the public at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, attending a presentation of sacred eagle feathers to the Manitoba courts, meeting with representatives of First Nations, Métis, and Francophone communities as well as with Executive members of the Law Society and Manitoba Bar Association. Chief Justice Richard Wagner even managed to make time to drop the puck at a Jets game. The justices were the guests of honour at a gala dinner attended by approximately 800 members of Manitoba’s legal profession. They mingled with the crowd in the packed foyer of the Convention Centre and played musical chairs, doing an admirable job of rubbing elbows with as many members of the bar as possible. Throughout the week, there was a palpable excitement in the air within the legal community, as their presence carried an aura of celebrity. Even beyond the legal community, many people took a keen interest and attended the hearings and the public events, which was exactly the point of the Court’s visit.

The Winnipeg visit was part of a broader commitment the Supreme Court has made to access to justice. The court has established an active presence on Twitter and Facebook, and in March 2018, it began posting plain language case summaries on its website. All of these initiatives are intended to help the public better understand the role of the Court and its decisions. As the Supreme Court presides over cases involving some of the most important social policy issues of our time, from same sex marriage and the right to assisted dying to delineating Indigenous rights, it has a hand in shaping Canada’s social fabric. It is imperative that the Canadian public understand the function of the Court so that they have confidence in our justice system. This is critical at a time when people increasingly obtain news and information in easy-to-digest nuggets via diffuse social media platforms, not all of which are reliable.

When the nine esteemed Supreme Court jurists hailing from around the country travelled to Winnipeg and spent the week meeting with a cross section of the legal and broader communities, they revealed their personalities, their senses of humour, their genuine curiosity about the local community and of course, their humanity. They put a human face on the Supreme Court and sent a powerful message that the Court wants to understand the people it serves and make itself more transparent and accessible to them. It also demonstrated the Court’s awareness of its need to adapt to the changing context in which it operates and to modernize its approach.

As in most endeavours, you create trust by fostering greater mutual understanding and building relationships. That is exactly what the nine judges did during their time in Winnipeg. Canada’s Supreme Court has long been venerated around the world. When the Court left its grand building on Wellington Street to head west to the Prairies, it also increased its profile and esteem among Canadians.

SCC Historical Visit: Part #1 – Manitoba Courts Adopt Indigenous Tradition in a Week of Memorable “Firsts”

by Alissa Schacter
Equity Officer and Policy Counsel, The Law Society of Manitoba

The last week of September marked a couple of notable “firsts” for Manitoba’s legal community. The Supreme Court of Canada sat in Winnipeg, marking the first time it has ever sat outside of Ottawa in its 145 year history. In another milestone, Manitobans can now testify in court by holding an eagle feather to signify the truthfulness of their testimony rather than swearing on a Bible or affirming their promise to tell the truth.

On September 26, forty-five eagle feathers were blessed in a sunrise smudging ceremony at Oodena Circle at the Forks and then presented to a joint sitting of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench and Provincial Court in the afternoon. The afternoon ceremony was attended by Indigenous elders, the Supreme Court judges and numerous judges from Manitoba’s Court of Appeal, Court of Queen’s Bench, and Provincial Court, Masters and Judicial Justices of the Peace, as well as members of the RCMP. Some of the attendees danced in their seats to the powerful sounds of Indigenous drumming and singing, which lent the court proceeding a ceremonial air. Elder Ed Azure shared a teaching about the significance of the eagle feather in Indigenous culture: since eagles are able to fly to great heights, close to the heavens, they are regarded as a “messenger from our maker” and their feathers represent honour, achievement, bravery, truth, clarity and service to others. Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and Chief Judge Margaret Wiebe both addressed the court and talked about this (incorporating the eagle feather into court proceedings) as one step on the court’s journey toward reconciliation.

Following the ceremony, the Law Society sponsored a reception in the Great Library and a tribute was made to a special guest in attendance, Marion (Ironquill) Meadmore, the first Indigenous woman to graduate from law school in Canada. She graduated from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law in 1977.

It was a moving ceremony that marked the ground breaking step of incorporating an Indigenous tradition into Manitoba’s justice system.

Richard J. Scott Award nominations due Friday, September 27, 2019.

The award honours former Chief Justice Richard Scott, who served as Manitoba’s Chief Justice for over 20 years and is a Past President of the Law Society of Manitoba.

The Richard J. Scott Award is presented annually by the Law Society of Manitoba to an individual who advances the rule of law through advocacy, litigation, teaching, research or writing. Activities that support an independent judiciary, an independent legal profession, access to legal services, access to justice, and public interest advocacy are all eligible.

Past recipients include:
Byron Williams (2013)
Irene Hamilton, Q.C. (2014)
Allan Fineblit, Q.C. (2015)
Jeff Hirsch (2016)
John Myers (2017)
Karen Dyck (2018)

The award is presented in conjunction with the annual Isaac Pitblado Lectures which take place on November 8, 2019.

The deadline for nominations is September 27, 2019.

Nominations can be sent to:

Chief Executive Officer
The Law Society of Manitoba
200 – 260 St. Mary Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3C 0M6
or
by e-mail to Pat Bourbonnais
at pbourbonnais@lawsociety.mb.ca.

Nominations should be accompanied by the nominee’s c.v. and an explanation as to why the nominee deserves this award.

For more information, contact Kris Dangerfield at 204-926-2013 or by e-mail at kdangerfield@lawsociety.mb.ca.

Notice from the Provincial Court of Manitoba

There is a general presumption, based on principles of access to justice, matters will be heard in the community in which the incident is alleged to have occurred. It is in the public interest to have matters heard in the community or the closest judicial centre so that members of the affected community can participate fully in the proceedings and see that justice is done.

There may be extenuating circumstances where the above principles should not apply. If that is the case and counsel are seeking to have any matter heard in a judicial centre other than the judicial centre closest to where the incident is alleged to have occurred, counsel shall bring an application before the presiding judge, in the originating judicial centre in which the incident is alleged to have occurred, requesting the matter be transferred to another judicial court centre.

This protocol applies to all jurisdictions and all matters and is effective immediately.

The original signed by Chief Judge Margaret Wiebe on July 25, 2019.