Quebec’s online gambling blocking plans challenged by telecom industry group

quebec-ip-blocking-legal-challengeCanada’s leading wireless service provider industry group has mounted the latest court challenge of Quebec’s controversial plan to block certain online gambling domains.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) filed papers with Quebec Superior Court asking them to reject the IP-blocking provisions of the province’s Bill 74 omnibus legislation as unconstitutional.

In May, Quebec approved Bill 74, which allows the Loto-Quebec provincial gaming monopoly to submit a blacklist of online gambling sites that compete with its own site. While this list is reportedly still being finalized, local internet service providers who fail to comply with the blocking orders could face fines of up to $100k per incident.

Earlier this month, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), a non-profit consumer protection group, filed the first official court challenge of Bill 74, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional affront to the federal government’s authority over telecommunications issues.

Wednesday’s challenge by the CWTA – whose members include telecom giants Bell, Rogers, TELUS and Videotron – echoes the PIAC’s constitutionality concerns, as well as the belief that ISPs will be forced to add new equipment to process Loto-Quebec’s requests, and that these costs will eventually be passed on to the consumers via higher fees.

Quebec has attempted to frame the IP-blocking plans as a ‘health’ issue, claiming that only offers Quebecers any problem gambling mitigation benefits. But the plan was first mentioned in a provincial budget that said the artificially enforced dominance of the online space would ultimately boost Loto-Quebec’s annual revenue by C$27m (US $20.5m).

Quebec finance minister Carlos Leitao has argued that the ‘health’ gambit brings the IP-blocking back under provincial jurisdiction but CWTA spokesman Marc Choma told the Canadian Press that “we will leave that up to the court to decide.”

Leitao’s spokesperson Catherine Poulin backed up her boss’ health claims, claiming that all gambling sites not named Espacejeux were “risky for consumers.” Poulin also claimed that the the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission “had been informed in advance of our plans.”

The Mohawk community of Kahnawake, which has built a thriving business hosting online gambling technology on its sovereign lands south of Montreal, has also expressed opposition to Bill 74’s provisions, in part because Quebec failed to respond to Kahnawake’s requests to consult on the matter prior to the bill’s passage.

Jaswal Institute managing director Johnny Jaswal has suggested that Quebec’s failure to engage in dialogue with the Mohawks on this issue could come back to haunt the province. Recent court rulings have slammed the federal government for not adequately consulting with First Nations groups before approving pipeline projects that would have had negative economic impacts on these communities.