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Cost-Effective Canadian Legal Research: Finding Free Canadian Legal Materials on the Internet

Increasingly, the domestic practice of the law requires a basic knowledge of international law and, as a result, international and foreign legal research. More often in practice today, international legal issues arise and are interwoven with subjects of domestic law, and some law schools have even incorporated international law into their first-year curriculums.

Basic knowledge of the available online databases for foreign and international legal research is essential for new and experienced practitioners, alike. Perhaps the biggest mistake for researchers, though, is to assume that international and foreign legal materials can only be searched for effectively in high-priced, online legal databases when, in fact, many of these international legal materials have been digitized by highly reputed institutions and made available for free on the Internet. For example, the American Society of International Law (ASIL) has just launched an online legal database for international law called "EISIL" (Electronic Information System for International Law), available at www.eisil.org/index.php?sid= 297648529&t=index.

In addition, many portals created by foreign governments or foreign law schools provide a neat indexing of the available Web sites for foreign and international legal research. Further, these Web sites can act as a springboard to foreign legal research in a particular region, province, or territory of another country.

Canada is a prime example of a country whose online, free legal materials, which have been widely digitized by the federal and provincial government, in some ways surpass the content of paid online legal databases. To be cost-effective, attorneys should have a working knowledge of the available Canadian legal information online and cross check materials available on the Internet against paid databases when conducting Canadian legal research.

Introductory portals that comprehensively and reliably index Canadian law are essential to help a researcher organize the mass of online Web sites available for provincial and federal research. Like the United States, Canada adheres to a common law system (except Quebec); therefore, legal research often seems easier than other foreign jurisdictions because many of the research tools mimic the American and British counterparts for statutory, case law, and administrative legal research.

Some of the best research portals that comprehensively index Canadian legal resources are:

These Web sites provide current links to Canadian legislation, case law, regulations, and reference materials to get a researcher started in a particular area of federal or provincial law. It should be noted, though, that the currency and source of the online information should always be checked at these free Web sites because they are mutable and content is constantly being added as new laws are created.

Evaluation of Web sites is essential for all legal research. For an evaluation checklist for legal professionals, see Ballard, Spahr, Andrews, & Ingersoll, LLP’s article "How to Evaluate Information-Checklist," available at www.virtualchase.com/quality/checklist_print.html.

In addition to these portals for broad access to legal materials, Canada has an impressive set of legislative Web sites with full-text documents available online. The official source for legislation is the Canada Gazette, and to find the most recent Acts in Canada, a researcher should consult Part III of this publication at http://canadagazette.gc.ca/partIII-e.html.

The Canadian Department of Justice has also created a Web site of digitized laws, regulations, and constitutional texts, which is available at http://laws. justice.gc.ca/en/index.html and is full-text searchable via a basic or advanced search engine.

Finally, the Library of the Parliament of Canada has created "LEGISInfo" at www.parl.gc.ca/LEGISINFO/index.asp?Lang=E , which provides public access to the most recent bills in the House of Commons and Senate. To search specifically for provincial legislation and official gazettes, the best index with an embedded map of links by province is made available through "Legis.ca" at www.legis.ca/en/index.html. Overall, these Web sites will provide researchers with comprehensive, free access to federal and provincial legislative materials in Canada.

For researching Canadian case law materials online, attorneys can find official Web sites through the Supreme Court of Canada (www.lexum.umontreal. ca/csc-scc/en/index.html), the Canadian Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal (http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/ index_gbl.shtml), and CANLII’s search of federal and provincial case law (www.canlii.org/search-rech_en.html). Specialty tribunals in Canada have also digitized their case law collections and have made the documents available for free online, such as the Canadian copyright board decisions (www.cb-cda.gc.ca/decisions/index-e.html), the Canadian human rights tribunal (www.chrt-tcdp.gc.ca/search/index _e.asp?searchtype=cases), and the Canadian competition tribunal (www.ct-tc.gc.ca/Index.asp).

Another very helpful tool for foreign case law research in Cana
da is CANLII’s Canadian Charter of Rights Decisions Digest (www.canlii.org/ca/com/chart/ index.html), which is a wonderful index to decisions that correlate with sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Finally, the Uniform Law Conference of Canada has published its uniform laws online (www.ulcc.ca/en /us/) for attorneys who are researching commercial law and private international law issues.

Primary resources like those mentioned above are vital for comprehensive legal research in Canada, but there are also excellent secondary online resources to provide initial guidance for the practitioner who is just starting legal research in this jurisdiction. For example, Best’s Guide to Canadian Legal Research (http://legalresearch.org) provides a tutorial-style introduction to the sources of Canadian law and steps in Canadian legal research for neophyte attorneys.

Other comprehensive research guides on Canadian legal research can be found at llrx.com, which is a Web site authored by law librarians who are specialists in various fields of legal research. Take a look at Ted Tjaden’s "Doing Legal Research in Canada," available at www. llrx.com/features/ca.htm and Louise Tsang’s "Overview of Sources of Canadian Law on the Web, Revised," available at www.llrx.com/features/canadian4.htm.

For treaty research where Canada is a party to the agreement, researchers can find a reliable Web site created by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Canada (www.treaty-accord.gc.ca/Treaties _CLF/Section.asp?Page=TS).

With the wealth of materials available for free online for legal research in Canada, attorneys are able to research in a very cost-efficient manner in this foreign jurisdiction. Exploration of these online resources created by the government and prominent legal institutions in Canada is essential, rewarding, and profitable!

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