The Quebec government took a gamble, and lost.
Under the guise of concern for the health and safety of Quebecers, the provincial government introduced controversial legislation that compelled Internet service providers to block unlicensed gambling websites.
It was a ruse, a move to protect their turf and increase revenues.
So concluded Quebec Superior Court Justice Pierre Nollet who held that Quebec’s effort was unconstitutional because it infringes upon federal jurisdiction on telecommunications and criminal law matters.
The contentious legislation was closely watched by other provinces who have online gaming offerings. Much is at stake. H2 Gambling Capital, a leading supplier of gambling data and market intelligence, predicted that the value of the global online casino and bingo market would surge to approximately US$13.5 billion by 2018, representing a compound annual growth rate of more than 10 per cent from 2014.
Or as renown Montreal gaming lawyer Morden Lazarus told me: “The provinces have decided that they want to get into online gaming and they want to be able to generate these revenues for their own benefit. The Quebec government is leading the charge.”
The decision may have wider implications, according to Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. A coalition of companies including broadcasters like the CBC, telecoms (including Bell Canada) and creative groups have asked the federal regulator Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to create an agency that blocks websites with illegal content.
But Judge Nollet noted that the 1993 Telecommunications Act enshrines the concept of net neutrality, and requires the CRTC to block sites only under strict circumstances.
“In the Court’s opinion, section 36 (of the Act) does not permit telecommunications companies to modify signals, whether legal or not, except in certain cases provided for in the regulatory policy such as the power to modify the signal to eliminate network threats,” said Judge Nollet in Association canadienne des télécommunications sans fil c. Procureure générale du Québec, 2018 QCCS 3159.
The link to network threats is important, said Geist in a blog posting, because “supporters of the Bell site blocking plan (who argue that it does not implicate the net neutrality rules) cite a 2009 CRTC net neutrality decision reference to illicit materials, which they claim could include copyright infringing materials.
“I argue that the reference ‘clearly refers to network threats, not the content of the materials.’ The court in this case agrees with the need for a link to network threats. The illegality of content – whether copyright infringement or online gambling – does not go directly to the security and integrity of the network.”