Politics

Liberal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc loses control of website

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's most trusted ministers has lost control of the website domain name he has used for a decade. Now, his office is scrambling to put together a new website with a new domain while hoping the mystery buyer doesn't pull any surprise moves.

Mystery buyer snapped up LeBlanc's domain name

Liberal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc's website was listed for sale Friday morning. (CBC screen capture)

He's one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's most trusted cabinet ministers, responsible for keeping control of the government's agenda.

However, Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc's office has been left scrambling after it accidentally lost control of the minister's own website domain.

LeBlanc's right to the domain dominicleblanc.ca, which has been his internet showcase for a decade, expired earlier this year after the company he had been dealing with failed to renew its registration. 

On July 20, a mystery purchaser bought the rights to LeBlanc's domain name and promptly put it up for sale.

Googling LeBlanc's website now brings visitors to a generic site featuring links to ads from keywords like "wrestling," "government of Canada" and "Stephen Harper."

What Dominic Leblanc's website looks like now. (CBC screen capture)

Up until Friday morning, when CBC News began to ask questions, the site also included a link to Sedo.com, which listed LeBlanc's domain name for sale and invited visitors to make an offer.

The anonymous seller, identified only as "Israel" and "active since 2007," listed a minimum offer of $90 US for the website, which was advertised as getting 117 visitors per month.

While Sedo.com general counsel Jeremiah Johnston said his company's privacy policies prohibited it from identifying the mystery seller, he said his company removed the offer of sale from its site after it realized the domain name was linked to a prominent Canadian politician.

"We have terms of use that make it very clear the kinds of domains that are appropriate or not for our services, and when you're getting into people's names and especially famous politicians, that's not appropriate for our services."

Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc's office is now trying to set up a new website. (Viktor Pivovarov/Canadian Press)

"Internally, once we received your message, we did a review and [decided] this domain was not appropriate for our website and we blocked it proactively."

But while the sale on Sedo.com has been blocked, LeBlanc's website domain name is still under the control of the mystery buyer, who is free to do whatever he or she wants with it or put it up for sale again via another platform.

Johnston said LeBlanc's dilemma is not unique, and it is a risk that other politicians face as well.

"If you let your registration drop, it goes back out to the public, first come, first served, and unfortunately these things happen."

However, Johnston said brands and trademarks are targeted more often than political figures.

While LeBlanc isn't the first politician to lose control of a domain name after neglecting to renew it, he is more fortunate than two of his Maritime colleagues.

In 2009, Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner was surprised to learn that his website's domain name led instead to an internet dating and porn site. To this day, Cuzner has had to redirect traffic to a new site.

Around the same time, Keith Ashfield, former Conservative MP for Fredericton, discovered that his website's domain name had also been snapped up and was offering drugs like OxyContin without prescription. 

Some unscrupulous "domainers" have been known to scoop up expired website domains and then exact large sums of money for their return.

Dominic LeBlanc's website is shown as it appeared before he lost control of his domain name. (CBC screen capture)

Sébastien Béliveau, spokesman for LeBlanc, said nobody has contacted the minister's office about the website domain or asked for money for its return.

Béliveau said a new website with another domain name should be online next week.

"We'll definitely take a look into what we can do to ensure that nothing untowards gets directly associated to that [domain]."

elizabeththompson@cbc.ca

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