Court stops Quebec’s attempt to ban citizens’ access to private online gaming sites
The Quebec Superior Court has stopped the state government’s attempt to deny its citizens access to online gaming sites that are unauthorised by its gambling commission.
According to the new legislation, there was a proposed clause that all “online gaming website must get authorisation from the state-run gambling corporation.” Prior to this injunction, online gambling has been freely accessible in Quebec, with unrestricted access to numerous online casinos—both local and international—and some players making choices on a suitable gaming platform by taking a review of bodog, a top online casino.
However, in a recent ruling, Justice Pierre Nollet said the Quebec legislation is unconstitutional “because it infringes on the federal government’s jurisdiction regarding telecommunications and the Criminal Code.”
In Canada, online gambling is regulated on the provincial level which means that every province can set its own online gambling laws and choice whether its residents can or can not play online casino games and also where exactly they are authorized to make their bets.
However, in Quebec, both offline and online gambling activities are regulated by the Loto-Quebec. The Loto-Quebec has been regulating all the gambling-related issues on the province territory—from the sports betting activities to the fundraising lotteries—since it’s creation in 1969.
In 2010, the corporation commenced its own online casino called Espacejeux but with limited number of game offerings which only included video poker, bingo, some slot machines, and sports betting options. Due to this limitation, the gambling website was unable to satisfy all the needs of the local gamblers that tilt towards the more advanced international online gambling websites.
In 2016, the Quebec government adopted legislation that ordered internet service providers to block access to online gambling sites unauthorised by Loto-Quebec. This sparking outrage and accusations that the government was trying to censor part of the internet and violate the concept of internet neutrality.
Nonetheless, the court ruled in a July 18 decision that Quebec did not have the authority to place such order because its law touched on telecommunications and criminal law, both federal competencies. Also, Nollet noted that the main goal of the legislation was to prevent access to private online gambling and not necessarily protect consumers or public health.
The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) challenged the legislation – which had not yet come into effect – and said it was pleased with the decision.
“We have always been clear all Canadians are better served by a proportionate and symmetrical set of federal regulations than a patchwork of provincial regulations,” said a spokesperson for the CWTA.
Also, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, said “the court got it right.”
“(The ruling) sends a strong message to the Quebec government and to any provincial government that might think regulating the internet through mandating blocking schemes is the way to go,” Geist said in a report.
Additionally, in the 2015 budget documents, the Finance Department noted Loto-Quebec’s online gambling platform, Espacejeuxwas losing money. Therefore, the government—in a bid to increase revenue—then introduced legislation banning Quebecers’ access to all gambling websites unauthorised by the province’s gaming authority.
Finance Minister Carlos Leitao had said “the law was necessary to protect the health and safety of Quebecers because private gambling companies do not apply the same responsible gaming rules as the provincial government.”
However, ruling judge Justice Pierre Nollet saw through Leitao’s argument.
“The veritable character (of the law) is to prevent gaming websites not exploited by the government from being accessible, and not about protecting consumers or their health,” said Nollet.
Geist said he thinks from the moment of its introduction; the law was all about increasing Loto-Quebec’s revenues.
“And the government wasn’t shy about that until the reality of the court challenge, and then there was this attempt to frame it as a health and safety measure,” he said.
Geist noted thatNollet’s ruling could have an impact on an upcoming decision by the CRTC regarding a demand by a coalition of companies – including Bell Canada and the CBC – for the commission to block websites considered purveyors of pirated creative content.
In his decision, Nollet cited the 1993 Telecommunications Act, which he said,“enshrines into law the concept of net neutrality.”
“Net neutrality” is understood to mean that internet companies should be neutral carriers of content and not show preference to some sites over others or block access to certain sites.
The 1993 act states, “Except where the Commission (the 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.”
According to Nollet’s ruling, the act requires the CRTC to block sites only under strict circumstances, such as during severe threats to the network.
“There are implications (in the ruling) for other site-blocking proposals,” Geist said. “Because it says the courts understand (the CRTC) by and large, doesn’t block content, and if so, does it under very, very limited circumstances.”