Ontario revamps legislation web site

Ontario’s e-Laws web site, which provides a searchable online repository of the province’s laws and regulations, launched a new beta version of itself for testing this week — and it appears to be a significant improvement.

The province’s e-laws division reports that the overhaul has been in the works for a year with technical development having begun in January.

“This is part of a larger government initiative to make information easier to find and use for diverse audiences, from consumers to specialists,” according to a spokesperson for the division.

“It has also been a while since the last significant refresh of e-Laws in 2006, and we wanted to take advantage of the new techniques that have been developed for web sites since then.”

The first thing you notice on the new site (found at the much easier to remember ontario.ca/laws) is the interface, which is cleaner and boasts a simplified input for searching and browsing legislation.

Research that used to require flipping to multiple pages and conducting separate searches can now all be handled from the same input field, which provides handy checkboxes to refine by category (consolidated law, source law, period in time law, revoked or spent law).

So instead of clicking on a category that takes you to one of various search pages, the new site allows users to modify and refine their searches as they go without starting from scratch.

Results appear right alongside the search box (not in a new window) and can be sorted alphabetically or by date.

The new site also does a much better job of anticipating the user’s needs by listing relevant statutes alongside the one being searched (such as previous versions of the act or related regulations).

On the old site, searching for a previous version of a statute was a hassle, requiring users to scroll through a detailed history of the act in order to find citations of previous versions, which only then could then be searched for individually.

The new site makes use of navigational tabs that allow users to quickly switch between the current act and a complete list of previous versions, all with direct links to the downloadable statutes.

Another useful tab offers a list of all regulations under the act, including those that have been revoked.

As a prominent disclaimer points out, the website does not provide access to official copies of Ontario’s statute of regulations, which are still available at the old site (e-laws.gov.on.ca).

Ontario’s e-Laws division is soliciting user feedback while the site is in beta mode. Any comments or suggestions can be sent to e-laws@ontario.ca. The site is scheduled for official launch by the end of September.

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