The Ontario government has decreed that waiting up to a year and a half to post provincial legislation online is too long.
The province recently introduced the second version of E-Laws, a portal that attracts more than 220,000
visitors a month. First launched in 2001, E-Laws is accessed both by the general public as well as the legal community and all levels of government. Ontario officials said the revamped site would post new statutes and regulations within two business days of enactment, compared to the 12 to 18 months it typically takes for laws to be printed through Publications Ontario.
E-laws project manager Susan Merdzan said Ontario looked outside the province to Tazmania, Australia and New Zealand as models of fast, electronic service delivery. “”There was the whole issue of currency and the fact that they were getting their files up a lot quicker,”” she said. “”They were concentrating on the Internet access to law, as opposed to purely CD-ROM and hard copy.””
The site is created along a document-based file structure using Microsoft’s Access database product to build indexes and an ISIS search engine, Merdzan said. Though the province’s editorial staff continues to handle the front-end task of handling the files, an automated process allows to take updated documents and upload them, build HTML views and links between English and French versions.
While the site will post new laws within two days, amendments still take longer. Merdzan said that’s because amendments usually require multiple changes, and typically happen at the end of the government’s two sessions, near Christmas and the end of June. “”You can imagine what it’s like staffing in July,”” she said.
Even though it may take up to 14 days to post amendments, Merdzan said E-Laws would provide a “”note of currency”” in the revamped version so that if users open a statute it will indicate what amendments are about to happen. “”For all intents and purposes, you are able to pick up and get a pretty good feel for the law,”” she said.
John Sadler, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, applauded the government’s moves.
“”There’s a great economic incentive for governments to publish, of course. Then they don’t have to distribute the paper,”” he said. “”One would hope they would put some resources into that, especially since they seem to be cutting back on the things they are making available.””
Merdzan said the province had originally investigated the possibility of turning files into XML-based documents that would allow “”point-in-time”” views of previous versions of amended legislation. Funding for the XML components, which made it to prototype form, proved elusive, however.
“”People, when they read legislation, they really read the whole thing,”” she said. “”We basically cam