Canadian Court Believes It Has The Right To Censor The Global Internet; Not At All Concerned With Consequences

from the dangerous-ruling dept

In the wake of the awful European “right to be forgotten” ruling, it appears that a Canadian court is looking to get in on the over-aggressive censorship of the internet game. As highlighted by Michael Geist, the court in British Columbia has basically ruled that it can order Google to delete links to an entire website worldwide. The ruling in the Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack case is quite troubling on a variety of different levels, all of which should be called out for the problems and consequences (intended or otherwise) they are likely to create. First, in many ways, this ruling goes beyond the European right to be forgotten ruling, which at least limited the ruling to Europe. Not so with this court’s ruling, which basically argues that because Google operates worldwide, it is automatically amenable to any regulation around the globe (even though Google isn’t even one of the parties in the lawsuit!).

This is, frankly, a concern that we’ve been discussing for well over a decade — the question of “jurisdiction” for online activities. As we’ve noted, it’s somewhat crazy to argue that because you do something online, and that’s the accessible anywhere, that any laws from any countries apply worldwide. That’s a recipe for killing the internet, because it means that the most draconian laws automatically prevail. The stricter the regulations and the greater the censorship always win out under that scenario, since not obeying the most draconian rules automatically subjects you to liability. Such a ruling would have immense (and immensely troubling) implications.

And yet, that’s exactly what this BC court decides to claim. It almost entirely shrugs off the consequences, instead blaming them on Google for having the temerity to operate globally.

I will address here Google’s submission that this analysis would give every state in the world jurisdiction over Google’s search services. That may be so. But if so, it flows as a natural consequence of Google doing business on a global scale, not from a flaw in the territorial competence analysis.

The court seems confused about two things. One is the decision to open up global offices and to be subject to the jurisdiction of various countries where you have operations, and be subject to those laws for the users within that country. That already raises some questions. But, the court conflates the idea that a company may be subject to a local jurisdiction for the parts of the company operating in that jurisdiction, with the fact that an online service is available around the globe. The second, is the idea that because a ruling applies to the Canadian jurisdiction, it’s okay to enforce it around the globe from Canada. Google had already removed the links in question on the search engine, but the court is saying it needs to go much, much further.

Think, for just a second, about the consequences of such a decision. As Michael Geist notes, it’s not hard to see where this gets very troubling very fast:

The implications are enormous since if a Canadian court has the power to limit access to information for the globe, presumably other courts would as well. While the court does not grapple with this possibility, what happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database? Or if Iran orders it remove Israeli sites from the database? The possibilities are endless since local rules of freedom of expression often differ from country to country.

Or, just go back to the European right to be forgotten ruling. Under this rationale, Europeans might seek to have such content deleted globally. Or how about China? We just reported on how successfully China has more or less deleted all references to Tiananman Square online within China. Now imagine that it had the power to do that globally? For years we’ve discussed libel tourism in which individuals and companies pick the “best” jurisdiction to sue someone for libel, using the claims that because it’s on the internet, the statements are available in that country (even if neither the speaker, nor the subject of the speech) are located in that country. Imagine what the internet looks like when such rulings can be determined to apply globally.

It’s not just that it creates a heckler’s veto for the internet. It’s much, much worse. It means that the most draconian, most repressive, most anti-free speech rules automatically apply to the entire internet, because one could just seek out the most extreme jurisdiction to bring cases, and then seek to apply them globally just because the content appears “online.” This is a disastrous ruling for the internet, for free speech and for freedom in general. Hopefully, the case is appealed and overturned.

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Companies: equustek solutions, google

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Comments on “Canadian Court Believes It Has The Right To Censor The Global Internet; Not At All Concerned With Consequences”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

It might have unforeseen repercussions, but it would be interesting to see the backlash if Google were to suddenly block all Canadian IP addresses from using their services, or even just their search engine, and instead just provided a link stating that due to this ruling they find it too problematic legally to offer services in Canada, and should people object, they should call up their representatives and complain to them.

trollificus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This ^.

I have to think it’s doable, ideally in a manner that would allow those motivated and tech savvy enough (a modest level?) to circumvent it, but creating backlash from everybody else, hopefully a considerable amount. That judge may already be getting pounded, possibly by his own family, which must number among them some people under the age of 60 screaming “WTF you fucktarded looser?? What were you thinking??”

Maybe Google is concerned people would start using all those other search engines, like…ummm…Bingo? Is that one??

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

New country eh? I recommend you start with something small, like this little bit from the French Revolution:

* Article 1: All offences of the same kind will be punished by the same type of punishment irrespective of the rank, status, SEO or location in the world of the guilty search engine/webpage.

* Article 2: Whenever the Law imposes the removal of data from the internet, irrespective of the nature of the offence, the punishment shall be the same: data deletion, effected by means of a simple mechanism, such as destruction of the offending servers with an ax in a parking lot.

* Article 3: The punishment of the guilty search engine/webpage shall not bring discredit upon or discrimination against his corporate headquarters, affiliates, or LLC.

* Article 4: No one shall remind a CEO with any search engine/webpage data removal request, imposed on one of his family of companies. Such offenders shall be publicly reprimanded by a judge and on the internet, without posting exact details of what exactly they did, because then they could request to have such data removed.

* Article 5: The guilty search engine/webpage company will not have their other server(s) seized, unless suspected of “crimes” with no actual basis in fact. Then it is OK.

* Article 6: At the request of the subject in question, the offending data of the guilty search engine/webpage shall be returned to them for final deletion, and no reference to the nature of said data shall be registered on the internet, because then the subject would have request removal of the offending data all over again.

You can add, modify and change definitions as to what it really means in secret, later on down the road. It is your country, after all.

The Law Is There To Protect People says:

Technology, both its positive and negative aspects, has run way ahead of the law, which is trying to play catch-up.

We love technology’s positive improvements to the world.

We struggle with its negative consequences.

The pendulum has swung way too far toward technology, away from protecting people. Expect the pendulum to swing the other way. Eventually there may be an equilibrium.

The seesawing will be interesting to watch.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“We struggle with its negative consequences.”

Who’s this “we”? I certainly don’t see any unusual negative consequences that require “struggling”. The “negative consequences” (“effects” is a better word) I see are the same ones that we’ve always had.

“The pendulum has swung way too far toward technology, away from protecting people”

We mus be speaking different languages. Rulings like this court’s are not “protecting people” at all. Just the opposite.

“Expect the pendulum to swing the other way.”

I do expect this. The push towards liberty and freedom always meets with opposition. However, I will fight that swing all the way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We the people. Thought that was established about the time of King George II?

I have a right to protect myself.

We as a group have a right to protect ourselves. We do it by laws now.

Sometimes we overdo it, sometimes we underdo it. Not consciously, it just happens.

No unusual negative consequences? Guess you haven’t read about Snowden. We need a lot of protection from things under the rock he lifted up.

Guess you didn’t read the ruling. “Liberty”, “freedom”, but only for thieves? It the people being stolen from were you and yours, would you be bellowing for the thieves’ liberty and freedom?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“We as a group have a right to protect ourselves. We do it by laws now.”

Indeed so!

“Guess you haven’t read about Snowden. We need a lot of protection from things under the rock he lifted up”

The abuses that Snowden revealed were not actually technological in nature. Such abuses go back as far in time as there have been governments. Technology was the means (and makes the abuse more effective), but it’s not different in kind. To frame it as a consequence of technology is, I think, to fundamentally misunderstand what it’s about.

“Guess you didn’t read the ruling. “Liberty”, “freedom”, but only for thieves?”

Now you’re just being silly. Nobody’s saying any such thing. The problem is that courts in Canada is asserting power over the whole planet.

Anonymous Coward says:

The fact that Google has a Canadian subsidiary could mean they have no choice but to comply, but what about companies that have no Canadian subsidiary? Would the US government recognize a foreign judgment if the judgment is in conflict with US law (letter of the law, due process, constitutionality)? Can a foreign court impose an unconstitutional judgment upon an American company just because it has a worldwide online presence?

KevinEHayden (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not quite

That’s actually ‘Canada – the country above the US’.
We’ve only had one or two stupid rulings so far, although as of now, we seem to be headed in the same direction.
Hopefully this one gets reversed on appeal, which should
be expedited, based on the fact that it’s only Google that’s
targeted, not Bing, Yahoo, Ask, etc. It’s blatntly unfair to require one search engine to filter without requiring ALL of them to do it. Since Google has already filtered its .ca domain, perhaps they should redirect all accesses to its other domains coming from Canada to a web page directing the users to the .ca domain. They can also add a polite note explaining that they’ve been ordered to restrict all Canadian access to Google to only go there because of the court order. They could then mention that if we in Canada don’t like it, to please take it up with the relevant authorities in our country.

btr1701 (profile) says:


> Imagine what the internet looks like when such
> rulings can be determined to apply globally.

But they can’t be. Courts can issue all the rulings they like, claiming jurisdiction over whatever they like, but *enforcing* those rulings is where the rubber meets the road.

What is the Canadian court going to do if Google tells it to pound sand? It might be able to seize whatever property Google has in Canada to pay contempt fines, but if Google closes up shop, fires all it’s Canadian employees and leaves Canada, then the Canadian government is powerless to enforce these court rulings, short of armed military invasion of the USA.

Same goes for all these other countries. Iran? Google doesn’t even *have* any offices or property there, so any court ruling out of Iran would be a toothles tiger from the get-go.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. all should just close down their physical international operations and pick one country to operate from that they determine would give them the most beneficial business environment– presumably but not necessarily the USA– and then tell all these other countries to screw off. These countries can then accept their search engine and social media services the way they are or they can block them entirely and answer to their citizens for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Enforcement

Or do the complete opposite of your suggestion: open independent physical international operations, each completely firewalled from the others. No subsidiary nonsense; completely independent, with formal agreements for the technology and data sharing.

That way, there would be no way for a judgment on the CA “branch” to apply to the US “branch”, since the US “branch” would be a separate company which only licenses the technology and trademarks to the CA “branch”.

Julien says:

Google and many others have created global companies to maximize profits. These profits come from each and every country Google is available. Why is it so hard to understand that as a result, Google must comply with the laws of each and every country it operates in? Be it Europe, Canada, China, whoever.

If google doesn’t like it, it can back down, and let another player take it spot to offer similar services to the local country. Why won’t they? Cause they don’t want to lose those customers and the associated profits.

You want the $, then do comply. You don’t want the $, then go to hell and let someone else take your spot. That simple.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why is it so hard to understand that as a
> result, Google must comply with the laws
> of each and every country it operates in?

Because in this case, the Canadian court isn’t just ruling regarding Canada. It’s purportedly trying to control Google’s behavior worldwide. The Canadian court is ordering Google to do something in America, for example, that not even an American court would have the authority to do because it violates our Constitution. The Canadian ruling is essentially an illegal order in America, yet it nevertheless expects Google to comply.

> If google doesn’t like it, it can back down

What happens when one country orders Google to do something worldwide that would put Google in violation of another country’s laws if it complies?

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder if the infringing company had listed their products in a printed catalog distgributed worldwide, what then would the judge have ruled? Is this different because it’s the internet?

Since printed catalogs could be passed hand-to-hand the distributor would probably not physically be able to locate and recall all copies but what about individual pages that had been photocopied? In the same way there is no way to delete stored copies on individual computers all over the world. Perhaps the judge should order Google (not even a party to the case) to ask the NSA to infiltrate all computers and networked copiers/printers world wide and zap the offending ‘documents’. Somebody should suggest her order doesn’t go far enough just to see what happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

what happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database?

Take this one further – it’s entirely possible that Google could be ordered to remove them, and if they comply, this would violate Canadian anti-discrimination law, so presumably Google would be liable in Canadian court for obeying a court order.

I can’t possibly see this ruling withstanding an appeal.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Something is rottten here and I strongly suspect the ruling will be declared unconstitutional in Canada.

Although for reasons most don’t seem to suspect, which is that the ruling invades an area of federal jurisdiction which, to put it simply is, that when trade and commerce cross provincial are territorial boundaries it’s the feds that own it not a province and the BC Supreme Court is provincial. Keep in mind that the World Wide Web has become about trade and commerce to a large extent. To this point, I have to say I haven’t read the entire ruling but that it doesn’t appear to revolve around a civil suit where the plaintiff is accusing and jointly and severally of unfair competition and that, this isn’t about as it is about at least one of the contenders in the civil suit Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack wanting Google (in it’s global entirety) to remove it’s listing, something Google is highly resistant to do. Only has a psychical presence in Canada (likely Toronto and I hope they are enjoying the mayor there!)and that Parliament made clear in the 1980s that the Internet and Web, for regulatory and legal purposes were under Federal jurisdiction. That said I’ll have to read the entire ruling. But the judge there is messing out of her jurisdiction as there is nothing I’ve read so far that excludes it from that and a federal court should have heard the case she’s ruling on, not the BC Supreme Court. Still this looks like it will be fun. It looks less and less like censorship than it does about someone having a hissy fit about something and wanting to be removed from Google’s database. Too bad, IMHO. I understand that has deleted their entry though not which strikes me as the right response on their part. In the meantime someone is going to leap on this on appeal as being in federal jurisdiction and the whole thing will have to start all over again. Now, if the court had ruled that company X be deleted cause they were bad and what not that would be censorship. Ruling in Company X’s favour to be deleted cause they’re having a hissy fit would get appealed in any event. This is gonna be fun to watch. 🙂
I’ll finish reading the entire ruling sometime tomorrow when I have the time. We’re a strange bunch here in BC who often provide entertainment to the rest of the country. What would you expect from a Province whose first Premier called himself Amour De Cosmos? 🙂 Bill Smith was just too boring.

Salute says:

Re: Something is rottten here and I strongly suspect the ruling will be declared unconstitutional in Canada.

The providences are under direct rule from the Canadian federal authority. Your long winded (got your back, g00gle) is for naught. After the Canadian feds tell g00gle what to do, everyone in the world will be dumbfounded to be sure, but then corporations do not share the same magnitude of self governing sovereignty as do governments. Tell the world.

John85851 (profile) says:

Reverse the situation

Is anyone cheering this decision in Canada, besides the plantiff, that is?
What if the situation were reversed, like the author said. What would happen if Iran or North Korea decided they have authority over the Internet. Politicians in the free world (including, presumably Canada) would be quick to say those countries have no legal standing. Yet if Europe or Canada does this, it’s okay because they’re the “good guys”.

N York says:


Google *IS* the internet.
If it doesn’t exist on Google, it may as well not exist.

I think the middle ground of these laws will be that low profile private citizens have a degree of empowerment to remove certain stuff while higher profile public figures do not, much like how a lot of slander/libel law is weighted today. If you’re a public figure, the threshold is much higher. If you’re not and some ex girlfriend goes on to a hit site that refuses to remove entries and calls you a pedophile, yeah, there should be some recourse there. As with all new issues, it becomes a battle of ideologues and worst case scenarios. Eventually, the truth settles someplace reasonable but until then, boy, the end-of-the-world theories about how the internet is being censored and other hysterics will continue.

Anonymous Coward says:

As a Manitoban I am offended that a BC judge is telling me what I can and cannot search. So in solidarity with google, here are a list of thing they’ve been ordered to not allow to be searched for, as per the legal documentation of the court, which they are required to make available, and have thus brought attention to.


















t.; and


sadly this isn’t the first stupid judgement by this specific judge

Anonymous Coward says:

You’ve got some odd notions of who is in charge in Canada.
First off the BC Supreme court is Provincial not Federal. Secondly, we are a constitutional Monarchy, even if the courts say something stupid, the Queen can tell them where to stick it. While we don’t see that kind of interference often it does and can happen, and that muscle was even flexed within the last 5 years when Parliament was prorogued.

Elliot Nessman (profile) says:

Google has become the gatekeepers of the internet

Google has become the gatekeepers of the internet – Google more and
more is refusing to remove links to websites, posts which cause
irreparable harm to companies and individuals whether it be defamation
or companies involved in illegal activity.

By way of google’s 80%+ share of the search engine market, google has become the defacto gatekeepers of the internet. A single company with over 50 billion in
revenues decides on behalf of the world what information is accessible
on the internet and what is not. This is too much power for one company.
The public should be concerned of the overbearing power that Google

The court decision was justified in that the internet is
limitless and worldwide and the harm to the company is impacted not only
in Canada.

In Dow Jones & Company Inc. v. Gutnick, [2002]
H.C.A. 56 (10 December 2002), that same judge – Kirby J., of the High
Court of Australia — portrayed the Internet in these terms, at para. 80:
Internet is essentially a decentralized, self-maintained
telecommunications network. It is made up of inter-linking small
networks from all parts of the world. It is ubiquitous, borderless,
global and ambient in its nature. Hence the term “cyberspace”.4 This is a
word that recognizes that the interrelationships created by the
Internet exist outside conventional geographic boundaries and comprise a
single interconnected body of data, potentially amounting to a single
body of knowledge. The Internet is accessible in virtually all places on
Earth where access can be obtained either by wire connection or by
wireless (including satellite) links.

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