Jeopardy and Canadians: Lawyers stumped on reasons for ban

Legal experts are stumped as to why Canadians can no longer participate on the popular American game show. And Jeopardy itself has offered little by way of explanation.

Television show did not provide clarity on exact reason for ban on Canadian participants

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek said in a statement that 'Canadians make great contestants' and that he hopes they will be able to try out for the game show again soon. (Ben Hider/Getty Images)

Question: In January 2016, the American game show Jeopardy banned Canadians from participating for this reason.

Answer: What is no one knows for certain, Alex?

Legal experts are stumped as to why Canadian contestants can no longer bask in the studio lights and relish the famed game show's theme music.

Like one of the show's toughest questions, no one really has an answer.

Some suggest our digital privacy and anti-spam laws might be the cause, while others suggest that maybe we're just smarter than Americans who don't want to be upstaged by "moose-munching iceholes."

"I think it would be a shame if they can't work out a way for Canadians to keep participating," said Ottawan Frédérique Delaprée, who said she was "super thrilled" to be a contestant on the show in 2014. "I have such great memories of the show."

The show's publicists declined an interview with CBC News but instead sent a statement:

"As international laws governing how information is shared over the internet are ever-changing and complex, we are currently investigating how we can accept registrations from potential Canadian contestants. The Jeopardy Adult, Teen and College tests have already taken place this year, and we are making every effort to find a solution before the next round of testing is available."

The statement does little to shed light on what the actual reason is, other than a vague reference to Canada's digital privacy laws.

Frédérique Delaprée, from Ottawa, was a contestant on the show in 2014. She said it would be a shame if fellow Canadians aren't able to have the exciting experience she had on the show. (Jeopardy)

Privacy and anti-spam laws

But those laws — the Digital Privacy Act and our anti-spam legislation — were last updated in June 2015 and July 2014 respectively.

There doesn't seem to be anything specific in those laws that could account for the reason Canadians can't participate.

"It's very weird," said Éloïse Gratton, a lawyer specializing in privacy law who also teaches it at the University of Montreal. "Our privacy laws are consent-based so usually people who would apply and enter into a contest — all they would need to do is to agree to the terms. So I'm not sure."

Another lawyer, McMillan LLP's Ryan Black, said it's possible that whatever the game show was previously doing did not fully comply with Canadian laws.

He noted that Canada's anti-spam law carries an "inordinately" high penalty — up to $10 million for businesses.

He said the show might have recently made changes to their internal policies or updated their website, which could have affected the legality for Canadians.

"As opposed to getting it wrong, they're just saying, 'let's just figure it out first,'" Black said. "Why take the risk that you're going to be in penalties for $10 million?"

Even though the laws in Canada haven't changed in a while, he said it's possible they're just catching up now.

Trebek's response

The show's well-known host, Alex Trebek, is Canadian. He offered a statement about the ban that affects his "native country and the show I love," to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, which the show's publicists shared with CBC News:

"It is true that for the most recent Jeopardy contestant tryouts, Canadians were precluded from taking the online test, since the show must now comply with new rules set down by the Canadian government."

Trebek noted that one Canadian will compete on Monday, Feb. 22, and another two will appear in March — as those shows have already been taped.

"We have had many Canadians as contestants throughout the history of the show, and we hope that will continue, because Canadians make great game-show contestants. We look forward to having more try out as soon as we are sure we can comply with all Canadian online privacy laws."

While Trebek's response appears to suggest he feels for his fellow Canadians, it also did not explain much.

Another oddity in the saga is that the show bans Canadians — and Canadians only. The show's main eligibility requirement is that potential participants be at least 18 years old (not including the college and teen versions of the show). There is no mention of a ban on people from any other country.

Smart Canadians for $500

Once news of the ban broke, Canadians voiced their frustrations online, commenting on as well as on social media. Many suggested the reason for the ban is that we're just smarter, and Americans are tired of losing to us.

"We kept winning that's why! If you can't beat'em, ban'em," wrote Complacent Canadian.

"Clearly, they fear our superior trivia prowess!" wrote Louise A. James.

"Truly sad because there are many Canadians more intelligent than some of the contestants that I have seen on the show!" wrote commenter montexuma99.

But that probably does little to comfort would-be Canadian contestants.


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