Wireless lobby sues Quebec over law banning access to some online gaming sites
Quebec argues health problems associated with gambling fall under provincial jurisdiction
A new Quebec Internet law that would ban access to some online gambling sites is unconstitutional, says Canada's wireless telecom lobby, which filed court papers on Wednesday challenging the legislation.
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 Marc Choma, a spokesman for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.
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The lobby wants Quebec Superior Court to declare the new law invalid.
Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao has said his law, which was passed last May, is necessary to ensure online gambling companies maintain responsible gaming rules.
It grants provincial gaming authority Loto-Québec the right to draw up a list of online gambling companies operating outside provincial rules.
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 that we will leave that up to the court to decide,'' Choma said in an interview.
Choma said Quebec's law forces his association's members, such as Bell and Videotron, to choose between complying with federal or provincial law.
He said as far as he knows the Quebec government has not yet delivered a list of banned websites to Internet companies.
A violation of net neutrality?
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.''