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Google Is Fighting Global Search Censorship In Canada's Supreme Court

Should Canadian courts be able to block links worldwide?

by Jordan Pearson
Dec 6 2016, 5:12pm

Image: Flickr/Norman Maddeaux

A legal battle over the future of online censorship is raging in snowy Canada.

On Tuesday, Google went in front of the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that the country's courts shouldn't have the authority to order the search giant to censor links worldwide. This is because last year a court in the province of British Columbia upheld an order that forced Google to remove search results globally for a company selling counterfeit goods at the behest of a Canadian company. This is despite Google not having any data centres in Canada.

The question under consideration by the Supreme Court, according to the case summary on the court's site, is: "Do Canadian courts have the authority to block search results outside of Canada's borders?"

Read More: A Canadian Court Gave Itself the Authority to Block Google Results Worldwide

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist is live-tweeting the court proceedings, and based on his tweets, it appears Google's argument is that if a Canadian court wants to block search results in another country, the court should obtain a court order against the company in the country where it's based.

Google is also reportedly echoing the concerns of Canadian privacy experts who've argued that the ability to block search results worldwide could be used to silence legitimate free speech online.

It's a strange case with an even stranger origin, mostly because Google wasn't even involved in the initial litigation. The initial dispute was between Canadian company Equutsek Solutions and a man named Morgan Jack. Equutsek alleged Jack had been stealing, copying, and selling Equutsek's designs. The court ruled in Equutseks favour, and ordered Jack to stop his activities.

This didn't work, and so a BC court ordered Google to de-list search results for Jack's sites worldwide. Google appealed the ruling partly on the grounds that the company doesn't have any data centres in Canada. The appeals court disagreed with Google, and upheld the BC court's authority to order Google to censor sites worldwide.

If the Supreme Court of Canada upholds these previous rulings, then Canadian courts will have a new, global censorship power at their disposal.