Court Ruling Prevents Quebec from Banning International Online Gaming sites

The proposed online gaming legislation in Quebec has caused a lot of controversies, especially since under its provisions all gaming websites required an approval from the provincial crown corporation.

This piece of legislation has now been halted by the Quebec Superior Court, which has ruled that making Internet Service Providers (ISPs) block access to foreign-based online gambling sites is unconstitutional and that such a move infringes upon the jurisdiction of federal authorities.

Blocking Is Unconstitutional

After launching its Espacejeux website back in 2010, the provincial crown corporation Loto-Quebec has been trying to impose a monopoly on online gambling. Two years ago, the newly-adopted legislation forced ISPs to blacklist online gambling sites unauthorised by Loto-Quebec, while many accused the state-run corporation of violating the concept of net neutrality.

Blocking Is Unconstitutional

Now, the court has ruled the province didn’t have the authority to do that, since doing so was within the jurisdiction of the federal authorities, under the current telecommunications and criminal law.

The ruling stated the legal and practical effects of this law were to govern online gambling through ISPs, which wasn’t authorized by the provincial jurisdiction.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) was the one that challenged this piece of legislation. In a short statement, the CWTA expressed its satisfaction with the court’s decision. Commenting on their reasons to do so, especially since the legislation hadn’t been enforced yet, a spokesperson for the CWTA stated the authority on wireless issues, developments and trends had always been clear all Canadians were better served by a proportionate and symmetrical set of federal regulations than a patchwork of provincial regulations.

The Right Thing to Do

Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa, stated the court had made a right decision. He added the ruling sent a strong message not only to Quebec government but to any provincial government that might think to regulate the internet through mandating blocking schemes was the way to go.

Gest said he believed the goal of this law was only to increase revenues of the provincial crown corporation. He pointed out the attempt to make it look like a health and safety measure had been made only when the court challenge had become a reality.

On the other hand, no one at Loto-Quebec wanted to comment the court’s ruling.

In his decision, Justice Pierre Nollet cited the 1993 Telecommunications Act, which according to him preserved the concept of net neutrality.

The 1993 act says that “except where the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public”.

Gest stressed that the court’s ruling would have a significant impact on future decisions made by the CRTC regarding the issue of blocking certain websites considered to be offering pirated content.

Canada’s online gambling industry recorded more than C$17 billion in revenue during the last year, with operators such as PokerStars, 888 Poker and PartyPoker all opting to stay until the ruling, while some, such as Ladbrokes, had already left the market.