Some Canadian provinces – particularly those with regulated online gambling markets of their own – have been debating ways to prevent their residents from accessing offshore betting sites. In Quebec, the government decided it would be appropriate to authorize IP-blocking to thwart visits to such sites. There was great controversy over the legality of that approach, and now one organization is making a move to stop Quebec from initiating the blockage.
In May 2016, Quebec passed a piece of omnibus legislation known as Bill 74. Situated on page 2 of the legislation is a paragraph that describes it’s intent:
“To monitor online gambling, the Consumer Protection Act is amended to require Internet service providers to block access to illegal gambling sites entered on a list…”
That list would be made up of known iGaming websites operating from outside Quebec that fail to comply with the Consumer Protection Act (I.e. accepting Quebec customers without explicit provincial authorization to do so).
Furthermore, any ISP or WSP (Internet or Wireless Service Provider) that fails to integrate the blockage of IP addresses to websites provided on “the list” would be “guilty of an offense”.
Though already passed, this particular section of Bill 74 has not yet been enforced, and one organization would like to ensure that it never is.
PIAC Objection to Online Gambling IP-Blocking
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has filed a formal objection to the IP-blocking of offshore online gambling websites with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The PIAC’s application requests that CRTC reject the previously approved measure on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional to invoke federal control of the internet.
The PIAC’s objection to IP-blocking to offshore online gambling websites is based on several factors, including the terms of the Telecommunication Protection Act (TPA).
The formal objection notes that Section 36 of the TPA:
“…prohibits a “Canadian carrier” to influence or interfere with the content or meaning of telecommunications except upon prior authorization of the Commission. To our knowledge, no Canadian carrier ISP nor WSP has yet applied for nor obtained such authorization from the Commission. If any such ISP or WSP has, or will request such permission to interfere with telecommunications for this purpose, PIAC hereby requests that the Commission deny any such request…”
The PIAC pointed out that Canada’s provincial governments are not permitted to “control the content of telecommunications”, as that is a “federal power delegated directly to the CRTC in s. 36 of the Telecommunication Act.”
The organization went on to argue that Quebec’s intentions are not to prohibit online gambling, or control the rate of gambling within the province for the healthy and/or safety of the community. That fact is clarified by the provincial-operation and promotion of its own online gambling website, Espace Jeux, which will not be subject to IP-blockage.
As such, the PIAC says Quebec’s ambition is to “corral [online gambling] into a regulatory scheme and in fact into an internet portal (Espace Jeux of Loto-Québec) from which the provincial government can derive fees. Therefore the Province of Québec cannot claim to be exercising an ancillary power under its constitutional authority over local matters (health and safety) in the province.”
IP-Blocking Not Sufficient Anyway
The PIAC also pointed out that an IP-block on offshore online gambling websites would be “technically ineffective”, because it’s too easy to circumvent the blockage.
“Customers could easily use a different DNS server than their own ISP’s,” or “employ a virtual private network (VPN),” to mask their own IP address, said the PIAC.