Quebec’s AG Appeals Online Gaming Ruling by Supreme Court
The Quebec government is appealing an August 2018 decision by the Quebec Supreme Court which blocked the government’s ability to restrict online gambling.
Quebec’s government has filed a notice of appeal with the Supreme Court, while a government spokesman defended the appeal, saying it was trying to protect the best interests of its citizens. Quebec Minister of Justice and Attorney General Stéphanie Vallée (pictured right) declined to comment on the case before the superior court ruled on it, but their appeal shows the government plans to push its ability to censor content, despite widespread concerns about net neutrality.
Online gambling companies and telecom companies alike claimed the government is only trying to protect Quebec’s state-owned lottery system. Loto Quebec has not had as much success as other state-run lotteries in Canada, so the companies believe the government is trying to artificially prop-up its failing lottery system.
Canadian gambling is regulated by provincial and territorial governments instead of the national government. The province of Quebec allows land-based casino gambling, both by commercial interests and First Nations tribes. The famous Kahnawake tribe, whose reservation is south of the Saint James River near Montreal, has a land-based casino and itself licenses international online gaming sites.
Quebec Gambling Laws
Quebec allows online and brick-and-mortar lottery gambling, along with certain forms of sports betting. Single-game sports bets are banned, though locals have discussed the legalization of single-game sports bets in the wake of PASPA repeal in the United States.
The current case involves blocking the IP addresses of all unlicensed gaming sites. In May 2016, the Quebec legislature passed Bill 74, which calls on the Internet service providers (ISPs) to block the public’s access to unlicensed online gambling sites.
Bill 74: Block Unlicensed Online Gaming Sites
Bill 74 called for Quebecois ISPs to block IP addresses of online gaming sites which were not regulated by the Quebec government. It called for 2,200 websites to be blocked, which would restrict access for 8.2 million Quebec citizens. The government claims it is a public service to block Quebec online gamblers from unlicensed gaming sites.
Telecommunications companies, gaming sites, and many everyday citizens take a different view. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (Vidéotron, Bell, Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp) filed the lawsuit which won in the Quebec Supreme Court in August.
The CWTA argues Quebec’s government is going down a slippery slope by blocking its citizens from IP addresses. If the government can block gaming sites it does not like, then it could block any other Internet site it deems inappropriate.
After filing the lawsuit, CWTA Vice-President Marc Choma said in July 2018, “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.”
Arguments against Censorship and for Citizens’ Privacy
Those who wanted Bill 74 struck down also argue it is a privacy issue — the government should not be able to block citizens from viewing websites they want to view in the privacy of their own home. Furthermore, it is a censorship issue. If Bill 74 stands, then the government could censor any content its does not like: including political content aimed at the government or individual politicians.
Critics of Bill 74 say Quebec’s government wants to start down the path that authoritarian governments worldwide — China, Russia, and Turkey among them — by picking and choosing which websites its citizens can use.
Net Neutrality and Government Corruption
Beyond censorship concerns, such a bill opens the door to corruption concerns. Telecoms could pay lobbyists to have Quebecois officials block their rivals’ websites, thus creating monopolies through political corruption. The potential mischief seems endless.
In Switzerland earlier this year, a national plebiscite on the government’s ability to censor unlicensed online gambling sites passed with 70% of the vote. There, Swiss citizens thought the government’s actions were beneficial and did not portend wider censorship issues.
Canadian Radio-Television Commission Act
Quebec’s Supreme Court thinks differently. They ruled that Bill 74 violates the Canadian Radio-Television Commission Act, which limits the government’s ability to censor content and argues for net neutrality. The superior court’s judges ruled that it violates the Telecommunications Act.
Section 36 of the Telecommunications Act stated, “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.”
Despite a write-in campaign to the Quebec government on behalf of net neutrality, the government insists it will go ahead with the appeals process. The Quebec Supreme Court plans to review the case for several months and issue an opinion on the matter.