CanLII: your free resource for legal research

by Catherine Best

CanLII is a service whose time has come — an electronic legal research database available to the legal profession and the public without search fees. If you haven’t tried CanLII, here is a quick Q & A to get you started.

How do I access CanLII?

CanLII is freely available on the Internet at canlii.org. No password or registration is required.

Who pays for CanLII?

The Canadian Legal Information Institute, or CanLII, is a non-profit society owned and funded by all the law societies across Canada. The Law Foundation of BC has made an annual contribution to CanLII since its inception. Courts, legislatures and administrative tribunals have provided for free the documents published on CanLII.

What material is available?

CanLII publishes Canadian case law and legislation, and the decisions of some administrative tribunals. A few pointers:

  • CanLII has not yet received permission from the Government of British Columbia to publish BC legislation. However, statutes and regulations from all other Canadian jurisdictions are published by CanLII, as well as case law from all Canadian superior courts.
  • The scope of coverage varies by court and jurisdiction. BC case law coverage commences in 1990, and Supreme Court of Canada coverage commences in 1985. For more information, click on Scope of Coverage on the CanLII home page.
  • There are gaps in the family law collection on CanLII because the trial courts in some jurisdictions, including BC, responded to privacy concerns by not releasing family law decisions for free internet publication. This policy has recently changed and, since January 1, 2006, new family law decisions from BC have been published on CanLII.
Why should I use CanLII if I subscribe to QL or LawSource?
  • CanLII is free. Use CanLII in conjunction with the commercial services to keep your flat rate from increasing and to reduce the cost of your services to clients. For example, use CanLII to retrieve cases by citation instead of obtaining them from a commercial service.
  • For lawyers who do not subscribe to a commercial service, CanLII provides a good alternative for recent case law, and for legislation (except BC legislation, as noted above). However, CanLII’s collection does not have the historical depth of the commercial services or some value-added features, such as headnotes, citators and commentary.
  • It is easy to locate cases and legislation on CanLII. Some lawyers who have not mastered the more complex commercial services feel very comfortable with the CanLII interface.
Why should I use CanLII when the BC cases are on the court website?
  • CanLII includes case law and legislation from across Canada, eliminating the need to visit numerous free sites and master different search interfaces.
  • CanLII provides a superior search interface, and includes various value-added features:

the Advanced Search template helps you compose a keyword search and make the most of CanLII’s search features

the search engine employs automatic stemming, so that variant forms of your search terms will be retrieved

in addition to searching by keyword, cases can be found by citation and by style of cause using the Advanced Search template

results are ranked by relevance, with the ability to refine your search by date, court level and jurisdiction

hypertext links enable easy linking to cited cases and legislation, and enable generation of a Noteup list showing cases that cite the document being viewed

parallel citations to print reporters are included at the top of each case, as well as a neutral citation or a CanLII citation

You own CanLII. Make the most of it! CanLII has come a long way in a very short time. It is always striving to improve its functionality and coverage. If you find a problem, report it by using the Contact CanLII link at the bottom of each page.