Convictions Premised on Google Maps
The criminal courts have long embraced the evolutions of technology, considering complex issues like cell tower records or ip addresses. (Relatively) recently, courts had begun to rely on Google Map results and take judicial notice of the information they contain. In an Ontario case from 2010 (R v Robinson, 2010 ONCJ 576), the Court of Justice referred to Google Maps results to make a finding on jurisdiction. Ontario courts have continued this trend of relying on Google Maps in R v Calvert, 2011 ONCA 379. The Ontario Court of Appeal in Calvert upheld the trial Judge’s decision to deny a Charter application on the basis of an ‘ASAP’ argument under s. 254 of the Criminal Code. Specifically, the Court of Appeal reasoned that the trial Judge’s reliance on Google Maps to make a finding about the distance between the scene of the arrest and a district office was not improper. Both of these cases resulted in convictions. Despite the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Court of Superior Justice has overturned a decision on the basis of the trial Judge’s use and reliance on Google Maps –in R v Ghaleenovee, 2015 ONSC 1707, the Court referred to Calvert but concluded that where the facts are disputable, and the evidence produced by Google Maps is not put the accused or witnesses, relying on Google Maps ‘compromises the appearance of fairness’.
The issue hasn’t received as much attention in Alberta but a number of Alberta Judges have admitted Google Maps results as evidence (see for example, R v Sharma, 2012 ABPC 199 –a decision by the Honourable Judge Semenuk from September 25th, 2015). From the caselaw, it’s evident that the problem with Google Maps results isn’t accuracy or reliability. The problem is that Google Maps results don’t always generate incontrovertible inferences, and so relying on those results shouldn’t mean viewing them absent any explanation from witnesses.