Published:July 13, 2021
It is legal to censor Google searches in Canada, a federal judge has ruled, says Blacklock’s Reporter.
But Google lawyers warn the ruling threatens freedom of expression in Canada.
“Google does not create or produce anything,” wrote Justice Jocelyne Gagné, of the Federal Court.
“It only displays search results.”
Gagné said there was “no effort on the part of Google to determine the fairness or the accuracy of the search results.”
The decision came on a reference from the federal Privacy Commissioner. It was filed on behalf of an unnamed petitioner who complained Google searches of their name displayed “a handful of articles published by recognized news media” that caused “severe social stigma” and “disclosed sensitive information” in breach of the Personal Information Protection And Electronic Document Act.
But lawyers for Google argued it wasn’t Google’s responsibility for the content of news articles and that rested with publishers.
“A consequence of the Act’s application would be that Google might be required to remove links to content containing personal information,” according to lawyers’ submission.
“For news articles, like the content at issue here, news organizations control what stories appear in Google Search as part of their overall journalistic mission: First, by deciding what to publish on their website, then by deciding whether to remove or change any information on their website,” wrote Gagné.
“Google further submitted that an interpretation of the Act that required it to delist lawful public content is contrary to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms,” the Court was told.
But Justice Gagné disagreed.
“In my view there is no ambiguity here,” she wrote.
“Parliament limited the Act to only protecting ‘journalism’ and not freedom of expression, broadly speaking.”
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien in 2018 wrote Canadians have “the right to ask search engines to de-index web pages that contain inaccurate, incomplete or outdated information,” adding decisions to scrub content off the Internet “should take into account the right to freedom of expression.”
But the Privacy Commissioner has twice sued to block websites from republishing material, like court records, already available to the public. In 2017 the Commissioner accused the operators of the website PublicExecutions.ca of “online shaming” by identifying debtors named in civil courts.