CanLII: The Canadian Legal Information Institute

CanLII is a website managed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and published by the Lexum Group that provides online access to primary legal sources including: court judgments, tribunal decisions, statutes and regulations across Canada. Their site states that, “CanLII's goal is to make Canadian law accessible for free on the Internet” and their original mission statement was to become “the best place to consult Canadian law” (citation). The abundance of information and advocacy for free access are significant to why this is an exemplary legal resource worth investigating.

CanLII's user friendliness also lends to its value as an exceptional reference resource. The site offers search capability by document text, case name, legislation title, citation, or docket, in addition to advanced search options that include Boolean logic and Noteup which limits results, but makes things even easier for the user who knows exactly what they are looking for. The databases are organized by geographic location (Federal, Provincial, and International) and each province is further organized by: Legislation, Courts, Boards and Tribunals, Frequently Consulted Documents, and External Links which often include a link to the province’s respective law library. Despite all of these search options, K. Sawatsky (2007) argues that the site is limited when trying to search by a particular point of law. CanLII also shares links to international sites involved in the Free Access to Law Movement. As well, updates are highlighted in terms of a newsfeed, blog, and an active Twitter feed which all prove efforts are made to keep the source current.

Given that access to CanLII costs nothing, virtually any library with computer and internet capability can offer access to this resource whether they are academic, corporate, government, or public. Michael Lines says that even though CanLII is a public source, it is primarily used by students and law professionals. Although his perspective is probably influenced by the fact that he works at an academic library, recent reviews of the site similarly suggest that users need a legal background or access to secondary sources to make the best use of CanLII. Max David King (2013) acknowledges that the site delivers a wealth of resources in terms of case law and legislation, but argues that the absence of any “point of entry” or references to secondary sources is a problem. (p.18) He says “the problem with secondary legal resources is the same as with primary resources; the lay user needs help navigating an unfamiliar tool” (King, p.21). King remains skeptical, but reports that CanLII is aware the limitations and have said that they will work towards providing access to secondary sources.

Accessibility & Cost

Cost: Free

Maintenance: Members of the Canadian Law Societies pay nominal annual fees to support the site.

Full site access is granted to anyone who has also access to a computer and internet connection.


Access to a large number of primary sources

Committed to meeting community needs



User Friendly



No access to secondary sources

Online access only

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