Wireless lobby sues Quebec over law banning access to some online gaming sites

MONTREAL – Quebec’s new Internet law banning access to some online gambling sites is facing a second major challenge, this time from Canada’s wireless telecom lobby.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association filed court papers Wednesday asking that the legislation be declared unconstitutional.

Rules governing the country’s telecom industry fall strictly under federal jurisdiction and Quebec’s new law violates the Telecommunications Act by forcing Internet companies to control or influence content, said association spokesman Marc Choma.

“Telecommunications is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government and must remain so,” he said in an interview.

The telecom lobby’s Superior Court challenge comes shortly after the Public Interest Advocacy Centre filed an application earlier in July with the CRTC, calling the law a violation of freedom of expression and asking the federal regulator to declare it unconstitutional.

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao has said his law — which was passed last May — is necessary to ensure online gambling companies maintain responsible gaming policies.

It grants provincial gaming authority Loto-Quebec the right to draw up a list of gambling companies operating outside the provincial online platform, called

Internet service providers would then be forced — under threat of financial penalty — to block Quebecers’ access to these sites.

The government argues health problems associated with gambling fall under provincial jurisdiction.

“I think we will leave that up to the court to decide,” Choma said.

Leitao spokeswoman Catherine Poulin said online gaming sites that aren’t operated by Loto-Quebec “are illegal and risky for consumers.”

“The CRTC had been informed in advance of our plans,” she added. “We have the reasonable assurance that we are acting within our jurisdiction to protect consumers and fight against the risks of gambling.”

Loto-Quebec spokesman Patrice Lavoie said the reason unauthorized gambling sites are illegal is “simple.”

“Only provinces can legitimately offer gambling,” he said. “As a consequence, all gambling sites are considered illegal except those of Loto-Quebec’s (online platform)”

Bram Abramson, chief legal and regulatory officer for Internet provider TekSavvy Solutions Inc., said his company is not a member of the telecommunications association, “but we clearly are in agreement that the matter is outside of Quebec’s jurisdiction and is not constitutional.”

He said TekSavvy, which services 300,000 homes in Canada, will participate in the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s challenge to the CRTC.

Aside from jurisdictional issues, legal and Internet experts have criticized Quebec’s law on freedom-of-speech grounds.

They say it violates the principle of “Net neutrality,” which is understood to mean Internet companies should be neutral carriers of content and not favour some sites over others or block access to certain sites.

The federal government included the principle in the 1993 Telecommunications Act, which 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.”

Critics have also pointed to the fact the 2015-16 Quebec budget documents described the drive to block access to competing online gaming sites as a revenue-generating measure.

The documents stated that forcing all online companies to go through the province’s gaming authority “would increase the dividend that Loto-Quebec pays to the government by $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million a year thereafter.”