Disappointing Supreme Court ruling has worrying implications for online free expression and access to information in Canada and across the globe
We're worried that governments and commercial entities will see this ruling as justifying censorship requests
The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Equustek Solutions Inc. -v- Jack that requires Google to deindex results from its global search engine. A number of organizations, including OpenMedia, intervened in the Supreme Court case, to express concern about its potential to negatively impact the free expression rights of Canadians and Internet users around the world.
As an intervenor in the case, OpenMedia argued that whenever there is a request for an order that would restrict access to content online, free expression requires particular attention from the Court, and that the Internet should be a protected medium of communication under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In their 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court found that free expression issues were not sufficiently engaged in the case. However it also invited Google to bring an application to vary the injunction, if it had evidence that the injunction interfered with its free expression.
This ruling was no doubt one of the more complicated cases the Supreme Court grappled with this year. While we appreciate the complexity of the issue at hand, it’s critical that there are safeguards in place to protect freedom of expression and access to information, not only for Canadians, but for Internet users around the globe.
The Internet is a global phenomenon, and there is great risk that governments and commercial entities will see this ruling as justifying censorship requests that could result in perfectly legal and legitimate content disappearing off the web because of a court order in the opposite corner of the globe. That would be a major setback to citizens’ rights to access information and express ourselves freely.
Among other groups granted intervenor status include the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The case has global implications because:
It is one of an increasing number of cases worldwide where web platforms are being asked to implement restrictions on expression online that reach far beyond the borders of the country where the case was heard;
The online free expression legal safeguard we’re trying to establish will set a new standard we hope will be looked to as a model when courts in other countries consider censoring content on the Internet;
The case could lead to a domino effect, where foreign governments and commercial entities justify censorship of search results by pointing to the precedent set in Canada.
Further information about OpenMedia's involvement in the case can be foundhere.