For the second time this month, an organization has filed a formal objection – this time in the high courts – opposing Quebec’s plan to invoke IP-blocking against unregulated online gambling websites. This time – much like the first – the claimant argues that the previously passed measure is unconstitutional.
The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) filed its claim against the provincial government in the Quebec Superior Court on Monday. The claim asks that the court reject certain provisions in Bill 74, a piece of omnibus legislation that would require ISPs to block access to a provided list of known offshore gambling websites.
The measure was passed into law in May, despite great controversy over what law experts and media called an attempt at ‘unprecedented internet censorship‘.
The measure gives Loto-Quebec, which already maintains a provincial monopoly of the state’s gambling industry, the right to submit a blacklist of gambling domains – domains that are in direct competition with the regulator’s own iGaming website, EspaceJeux.com – to Internet Service Providers (ISP’s), who would be legally bound to enforce the IP-block against those websites.
The blacklist of offshore gaming sites is still in the works at Loto-Quebec, but according to the new legislation, any ISP that fails to comply with the IP-blocking requirements could be subject to penalties of up to $100,000 per incident.
The CWTA is the second organization to file a formal objection to the measure. The first came earlier this month from the Public Interest Advocacy Center (PIAC), a non-profit group that supports consumer protection. The PIAC’s complaint was filed with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The PIAC is requesting that CRTC reject the measure, based on the grounds that the provision in Bill 74 is unconstitutional. As the filing points out, the federal government has no jurisdiction over telecommunications matters. Such issues are the sole responsibility of the CRTC itself.
The CWTA is made up of several major telecommunications brands, including Bell, Rogers, TELUS and Videotron, whose views mimic those of PIAC in the court documents filed yesterday.
IP-Block a Matter of Public ‘Health’
According to the politicians in Quebec who pushed IP-block plan, cutting off access to unregulated online gambling sites is a ‘health‘ issue. But the PIAC and CWTA argue Quebec’s true intentions have little to do with health, and a whole lot to do with money.
Such arguments are supported by the fact that the first mention of blocking IP addresses from accessing online gambling websites arose during a provincial budget meeting, wherein it was estimated the plan would increase Loto-Quebec’s revenue by $27 million annually.
It’s Up To The Courts Now
Carlos Leitao, Finance Minister for Quebec, has said that the matter does fall under provincial jurisdiction due to the aforementioned ‘health’ factor – stating that, should a problem or dispute arise, players will not have access to local mitigation with offshore sites, as they do with EspaceJeux.com.
A spokeswoman for Leitao, Catherine Poulin, added that online gambling sites – other than the one run by Lot-Quebec – are “risky for consumers”, and asserted that the CRTC “had been informed in advance of our plans,” to enact an IP-blocking law.
In a statement to the Canadian Press, Marc Choma, a spokesman for CWTA, responded to the government’s claims that Quebec has jurisdictional rights to block access to offshore online gambling sites. “We will leave that up to the court to decide,” he said.
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