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Canada’s State-of-the-Art Title Technology

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March/April 2002 - Volume 81, Number 2

by Fraser Nicholson

The land titles system in Saskatchewan, Canada, has catapulted from the 19th century to the 21st century. In less than three years the province has replaced its outdated, paper-based system with state-of-the-art technology.

The development of the Land Titles Automated Network Delivery (LAND) System has ushered in a new era for land information in Saskatchewan, a western Canadian province of just over one million people located directly north of Montana and North Dakota. As a result of automating the province’s survey and land ownership record and linking it with geographic information systems (GIS) technology, the new system is simpler and more responsive to user needs. By allowing customers to access the system over the Internet, including real-time information on their accounts as well as the status of any work they have ordered, the LAND System has established Saskatchewan as a leader in land information systems.

Prior to beginning implementation of the LAND System on a district-by-district basis throughout the province in June 2001, Saskatchewan’s land titles system certainly would not have been considered leading edge. We were utilizing virtually the same technology we did when land registration was first introduced in 1887, and we were drowning in a sea of paper. Saskatchewan Land Titles housed 50 millions pieces of paper, over four miles of shelving, and the files were growing daily.

The Land Titles operation in the province maintained ten separate land registration districts, in eight regional offices, all with individual registrars. Each office maintained discrete records, and customers were required to identify and contact the correct office in order to view records for a particular parcel. In addition, titles could only be searched by legal land description. Searches by other criteria, such as owner’s name or title number, were not possible.

Not only was the system paper based, it was labor intensive and susceptible to workload pressures based on the circumstances in an individual office. It was not possible for managers to facilitate work flow by assigning tasks to other offices. Because of the nature of the operation, work associated with a particular district had to be done in the relevant office. Turn-arounds in transfers and registrations could vary from one day to several weeks, depending on the location and circumstances.

These concerns, however, were only part of the impetus for developing a new, automated system. Equally important were the voices of customers calling for faster and more responsive service and improved access. As more demands were placed on them, they were demanding more from the land titles system.

The Saskatchewan government heard these pleas and began investigating existing systems available via the marketplace. Being the last province in Canada to automate its system offered distinct advantages. Not only did Saskatchewan have the latest technology at its disposal, but it also benefited from the trials and errors of the other provinces in their automation efforts.

At the time, automating a system basically involved converting the paper documents to electronic form. Feedback from land titles customers indicated they were looking for more from the system than just automation. Reviews of other jurisdictions, which had already automated their systems, indicated there were better ways to proceed. Since the provincial government already operated SaskGeomatics, a thriving GIS service, it was a natural decision to integrate the land titles system with this technology to provide additional value to customers. The Internet was also becoming a major factor for people at home and in the office, so it made sense to increase accessibility by delivering the system online.

The result was the development of the LAND System, a system that allows graphical description of every parcel of land in the province, raises titles to those parcels, records interests against them, and provides quick, reliable, and secure land titles services over the Internet. The LAND System is the only system on the market that combines all of these features. Further investigation determined that the cost of adapting existing systems to meet the needs of Saskatchewan was prohibitive, so the decision was made to develop a system for the 21st century.

But it is much more than automation. Creating the LAND System involved the complete redevelopment and reengineering of the existing land titles system, including automation, process redesign, rewriting legislation, and organizational redevelopment. Major changes were made to the way the land titles system operated, and some significant new options were developed that did not previously exist. Yet, many of the fundamental elements of the existing system were retained and protected.

The Major Changes

  • New legislation was passed, including two new acts (The Land Titles Act 2000 and The Land Surveys Act 2000) and amendments to 67 other acts.
  • No new paper is created. All existing paper records are being converted to electronic form; the electronic record is the official record.
  • The entire province operates as one land-registration district with a province-wide work queue, replacing the ten separate districts under the old land titles system.
  • All parcels of land are portrayed through graphical representations.
  • Multiparcel titles, multiowner titles, and surface/mineral titles have been separated but linked together for planning and assessment purposes, allowing more flexibility for searching for the owners of titles while maintaining the connections between related titles.

The New Opportunities

  • Consistent, province-wide transfer and registration turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours.
  • Customers can search for titles and plans of survey over the Internet 24 hours a day. Searches of title can be completed by legal land description, owner’s name, parcel number, and interest type, as well as various other criteria. Plan searches can be completed by location, plan number, legal land description, and type of plan.
  • With access via the Internet, customers throughout the world can access the LAND System.
  • Requests and documents for processing can be submitted by e-mail, fax, disc, CD-ROM, or regular mail. The necessary forms are available for downloading from the Web site.

The Stability Continues

  • The principles of the Torrens System of land registration, on which Saskatchewan’s model is based, have been maintained.
  • Title is indefeasible. This means that, except for implied exceptions and registered interests, the owner holds the title free from all interests, exceptions, and reservations. It also means that, subject to the exceptions, the title is conclusive proof that the registered owner is the owner and that the title may not be altered, revoked, or removed from the registered owner.
  • Certified surveyors are the main professionals involved in establishing boundaries for parcels.

In Saskatchewan the land titles function has historically operated within the Justice Department. With the development of the LAND System, these responsibilities were transferred to the Information Services Corporation of Saskatchewan (ISC), a state-owned enterprise that was created on January 1, 2000. ISC was created as a commercial entity to develop and implement the LAND System. The corporation is also responsible for marketing existing products, including LAND, as well as developing new products and services and creating applications for related information technology solutions.

ISC is currently in the initial stages of marketing the LAND System around the world. To date there has been considerable interest in the system, since it is the only automated land registry system linked with GIS technology and delivered over the Internet. The system is composed of various components that can be sold as a complete system or individual elements. The LAND System components include Titles Processing (land registry), Plan Processing (surveys), and e-Business Services.

To allow the title and survey experts to focus on their areas of expertise, independent support modules were developed to handle input and output management, accounting and imaging. These were developed into a collection of e-Business products and services. These products and services, which were developed as part of the LAND System and are being utilized internally at ISC, can be provided in independent modules, client-specific bundling, or full-service delivery options. There are five specific components to e-Business Services:

Common Entry Management System. This is the entry point for electronic and paper submissions in the work process. Documents are entered, imaged, and sent to a work queue for processing. Work is tracked and managed through the queue.

Client Imaging Management System. This system allows for the imaging, storage, retrieval, and disposition of documents. Documents can be preindexed and imaged upon request using the Pick functionality of the Warehousing Index System. Using this system, clients can request land documents from the past 100 years over the Internet. If the document has not already been imaged, it is retrieved and imaged, and a message is sent to the customer indicating the image is available, usually within 20 minutes.

Client Account Management System. This is a real-time, transaction-based billing system that tracks service charges and payments on accounts. It also provides other accounting functions. The completion of work by the application automatically triggers a charge to the customer’s account or credit card.

Common Output Management System. This is a comprehensive suite of distribution and output services, including electronic and Internet-based solutions.

Common Entity. This is a client identification system that provides customer profiles. It tracks client types and corresponding service options.

What does this all mean? A comprehensive land information system for customers. The LAND System provides an online tool for searching plans, historical documents, judgments and titles, and instruments. Other benefits of the system include:

  • Consistent, province-wide turnaround of 24 to 48 hours for title registration, as opposed to a much longer time under the old land titles system;
  • A simple, Internet-based way of registering plans, titles, and interests;
  • Submission of work by e-mail, fax, mail, or in person;
  • Improved integrity and quality of Land Titles records by transferring them to computer-readable format. (Paper records can be lost, misfiled, destroyed, or stolen, and deteriorate over time);
  • Improved cost efficiency;
  • Consistent procedures across the jurisdiction;
  • Support for economic growth by improving access to records and integrating a number of layers of information for the first time.

Residents of Saskatchewan are already reaping these benefits. Implementation of the LAND System began in May 2001 and is already complete in more than one-third of the province, with the remainder scheduled to be completed by fall of this year.

As of the end of January more than 150,000 paper titles and associated instruments have been converted to electronic form, and over 200,000 searches of land registry records have taken place via the Internet. The system has also processed more than 6,000 title transfers, over 4,100 mortgage and interest registrations, and approved over 40 plans of survey. As further evidence of the success of the system, since August 2001 eight servers have processed more than 11.5 million computer transactions with a 99.80% success rate.

Comments from customers bear further testimony to the success of the system. After working through the transition to the LAND System with an initial pilot project, customers are now seeing real benefits.

Residents of Saskatchewan are enjoying improved service and better turnaround on land titles services, as well as a seamless system for mapping the province that integrates two related but previously separate systems.

The entire package is greater than the sum of its parts though. With this system, ISC has created a platform to move the province of Saskatchewan into the knowledge-based economy. By evolving to meet the future needs of its customers, the LAND System has truly established ISC as a leader in land technology, for the 21st century and beyond.

Fraser Nicholson is the president and chief executive officer of the Information Services Corporation of Saskatchewan (ISC) in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He can be reached at

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