Regulators in Québec Move to Block Bill Banning Access to Unlicensed Gambling Websites

Online gambling enthusiasts in the Canadian province of Québec have reason to celebrate, following a September 1st announcement by independent industry regulators.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC), an independent broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, has deemed the controversial Québec Bill 74 to be unenforceable.

Back in May the National Assembly of Québec passed QB 74, which would require all Québec internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to unlicensed online gambling sites.

In Québec the only licensed online gambling platform is called Espacejeux, which is owned and operated by the Quebec government under its lottery monopoly Loto-Québec. During discussions over the 2015-2016 budget, Québec Finance Minister Carlos Leitäo identified unlicensed online gambling sites as the cause of Espacejeux’s declining revenue figures in budgetary outline documents:

“Illegal websites do not apply the same responsible gaming rules as the government. They thus pose a risk to the population, especially young people. (QB 74) would increase the dividend that Loto-Quebec pays to the government by $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million a year thereafter.”

Controversy reigned in the immediate aftermath of QB 74’s passage, with critics contending that the law would threaten the ideal of a “free and open” internet, as well as existing federal statutes like the 1993 Telecommunications Act, which explicitly protects “net neutrality.”

After QB 74 was passed in May, University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, who specializes in online law, offered a firm rebuke of the bill’s overall intent:

“I think the (Quebec) government doesn’t understand the Internet and frankly doesn’t understand the importance of an open and free Internet.”

A six-month delay in QB 74’s implementation was ordered to allow for further investigation into the bill’s legality. According to Danielle May-Cuconato, who serves as Secretary General for the CRTC, the regulatory agency has issued a preliminary ruling which finds that the bill is unlawful as currently constructed.

In a position statement issued by the CRTC, the agency outlines the reasoning behind that ruling:

“Accordingly, compliance with other legal or juridical requirements – whether municipal, provincial, or foreign – does not in and of itself justify the blocking of specific websites by Canadian carriers, in the absence of Commission approval under the Act.”

In June another regulatory body, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) – which represents telecommunications titans such as Vidéotron, Rogers Communications Inc., Bell, and Telus Corp – filed a motion with Québec Superior Court requesting that QB 74 be declared unconstitutional. Specifically, lawyers for the CWTA have identified the following passage from the 1993 Telecommunications Act as being directly counter to QB 74’s stated objectives:

“A Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.”

At the time, CWTA Vice-President Marc Choma issued a statement explaining his organization’s legal arguments against QB 74:

“As we had previously expressed to the Quebec government, the provisions in the Act would put ISPs and wireless service providers in conflict with Section 36 of the federal Telecommunications Act which governs ALL telecommunications in Canada.

As well, we have always maintained, and as has been confirmed by the courts in previous instances, telecommunications is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government and must remain so.”