Leaders in the Canadian province of Quebec would like nothing more than to stop offshore online casino operators from accessing their market. But the Canada Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) re-solidified it’s position last week that Quebec has no authority to institute an ISP Block of casinos located offshore without the CRTC’s express approval.
The situation first arose in May 2016 when Quebec legislators passed the budget bill for the year, titled Bill 74. Within its context was a provision that would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to enforce a block against international online casinos, effectively preventing Quebecois from accessing those websites.
While it’s understandable that Quebec would like to reinforce its position that conducting internet gambling is illegal without a jurisdictional license, the way the province is attempting to go about it is borderline absurd. Bill 74 puts all the responsibility of enforcing illegal gambling laws on the shoulders of ISPs, and worse, calls for unconstitutional censorship of the internet.
The CRTC said in September that it has the sole power to determine whether internet content should be censored, and that it’s not a responsibility the regulatory body takes lightly. The CRTC went on to confirm its preliminary position on the matter, stating that ISP blocking casinos violates Canada’s Telecommunications Act.
An excerpt from that Act reads:
|“Except where the 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.”
Bill 74 would first have to be deemed constitutional before the CRTC would even consider permitting a ban against Quebec online casino that operate from overseas. The Supreme Court is hearing that case now.
And even if it was deemed constitutional, the regulator said it would take “exceptional circumstances” to convince them it’s a good idea. And besides, the CRTC remains steadfast in its determination that Quebec’s move to ISP block casinos is not enforceable without the regulator’s approval.
“The Commission is exclusively responsible for the administration of this provision and will remain so, regardless of any finding with respect to the constitutionality of section 12 of Bill 74,” said the CRTC in September.
The CRTC went on to say:
|“…the [Telecommunications] Act prohibits the blocking by Canadian carriers of access by end-users to specific websites on the Internet, whether or not this blocking is the result of an ITMP [Internet Traffic Management Practices]. Consequently, any such blocking is unlawful without prior Commission approval, which would only be given where it would further the telecommunications policy objectives.
“Accordingly, compliance with other legal or juridical requirements—whether municipal, provincial, or foreign—does not in and of itself justify the blocking of specific websites by Canadian carriers, in the absence of Commission approval under the Act.”
For Healthy & Safety, or Provincial Greed?
Quebec officials tried to claim that the measure was justified; a means to protect the “health and safety” of Quebecois. That sentiment didn’t fly, however, because the context of Bill 74 actually states that ISP blocking caisnos overseas would benefit the government‘s own online casino operation, Espacejeux, generating $13.5 million in FY 2016-17, and doubling to $27 million per year thereafter. Quebec’s priority is clear – to eliminate competition.
The Commission was not blind to that fact, nor was the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which filed an objection to the Quebec law with the CRTC in July.
Friday’s reiteration that the regulator has no intention of approving the ISP block of offshore online casinos came as an adjunct to it’s postponement of the PIAC’s case in lieu of a conclusion to the Supreme Court hearings to determine whether Bill 74 is a violation of the constitution.