Wikipedia as Evidence in Federal Court

Remember our discussions about tendering Wikipedia as evidence in court? Seems it’s been happening for some time, and judges are not amused.

The Globe reports today that Federal Court judges are taking issue with the practice of immigration officials who have entered Wikipedia entries in immigration proceedings,

“Wikipedia is an internet Encyclopedia which anyone with Internet access can edit,” wrote one exasperated Federal Court judge, criticizing Ottawa’s filings in a case to remove a family of Turkish asylum seekers.

“It is an open-source reference with no editorial control,” scoffed another judge, as he took federal agents to task for consulting Wikipedia before sending an immigrant back to Iran…

“Wikipedia is specifically discouraged as a reference in decision making, unless it is supported by information from a credible, reliable source,” Karen Shadd, a federal spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mailed response to questions from The Globe and Mail. Federal screening agents, she added, get training “on assessing Internet sources.”

The article also notes that Wikipedia has been used at least a dozen times in the Federal Court, and is mentioned in over 100 decisions in CanLii in other contexts.

The problem with the type of evidence used in the immigration proceedings is that they are highly politicized and often contentious, making alleged claims about ties to organizations or groups that may or may not exist. It’s hardly the type of material that Wikipedia could potentially be used appropriately for – on issues of common knowledge for judicial notice.

The article indicates that lawyers working in the area of immigration like Lorne Waldman suggest that more training over the use of Wikipedia may be needed.

Comments

  1. It is sad that the court officers here are making a mockery of the system. How easy it would be to edit the Wiki page if you knew court clerks were using them. Nick Cannon stated that someone wrote he was dead on his own Wiki page. It is said that they are fixed quite quickly because of the huge fan base of Wikipedia. However, to take such a risk is an abomination of the Justice system and shows the laziness of these specific court clerks.

  2. I don’t read Omar’s post to suggest that court clerks are referring to Wikipedia, nor do they have any occasion to do so. The question was whether immigration officers who are deciding refugee claims can rely on Wikipedia descriptions of the conditions in the countries of origin of refugee claimants, to decide if those claimants have a reasonable fear of persecution if they return to those countries.

    As Omar notes, political and social conditions in some of these countries are matters of considerable debate, and that debate can continue on the screens of Wikipedia, so the resulting text may not be as reliable as one would like. That is apart altogether from the possibility that the claimant would personally change the page to support his or her case. One can tell the IP address of the computer used to edit Wikipedia pages, and sometimes locate the computers associated with that address, but one can’t know who was using the computers.

    Other web-based evidence is more reliable. The Federal Court has referred favourably to ‘official’ sites for some purposes. If a paper document certified by a public official is self-authenticating, maybe a website should be too. That’s how e-Laws works for Ontario statutes and regulations (more or less, with some statutory assistance from the Legislation Act, 2006).