A Canadian Supreme Court ruling on a dispute between a Quebec municipality and Rogers Communications over the placement of a cell tower may have just created a new obstacle for Quebec lawmakers seeking internet censorship of online betting sites. Last week’s ruling reaffirmed that the federal government trumps local governments in telecommunications matters.
Before we get into how this case has anything at all to do with online betting, let’s set the stage with a brief overview of the case in question.
Supreme Court Ruling Reaffirms Federal Government’s Jurisdiction
The ongoing dispute between the City of Châteauguay and Rogers Communications first arose after the telecommunications company sought to install a radiocommunication antenna system on land belonging to the City of Châteauguay. The municipality took measures to prevent the construction of that system, citing concerns regarding the “health and well-being of people living near such an installation.”
Rogers Communication, as you’ve probably surmised by now, took exception to the municipality’s blocking maneuvers and took the issue to court. The case worked its way all the way up to the Supreme Court before last week’s decision. The Supreme Court ultimately re-affirmed that telecommunications are a federal matter and that the city was intruding on a matter of federal jurisdiction.
That’s the very basic gist of the case, but you can see the case file here or read The Globe and Mail’s summary of the case here if you’re interested. The most important thing to know is that the Supreme Court just confirmed for us that matters involving telecommunications are the domain of the federal government, not city or provincial governments.
How This Impacts Online Gambling in Canada
Now, let’s get back to online gambling. A budget proposal from last March revealed that the provincial government in Quebec was hatching a plan to order local internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to all online gambling sites except for the government-backed monopoly betting site Espacejeux.
ISPs, gamblers and freedom of speech advocates reacted much as you would expect. They were outraged by the proposal and laid out a plethora of arguments against the measure ranging from free speech to the technical challenges in even implementing such a block.
Of course, the government plowed ahead anyways and the Quebec government decided to turn the proposal into law just last month. However, the bill was amended at the committee stage such that the internet censorship ban will be delayed for another six months.
Quebec’s government originally argued that internet censorship was necessary in order to help prop up the struggling Espacejeux website in the face of competition from international gambling sites that accept Canadians.
One estimate claimed that ISP blocking would net Espacejeux an extra $13.5 million in the first year and an additional $27 million every year following. The government later changed its tune and justified the blocking measures by citing its concern for the health and safety of its citizens.
The government rightly anticipates significant pushback against the proposal, up to and including court action. And that is where this latest ruling ties into online gambling. Online betting is certainly related to telecommunications, and this latest ruling from the Supreme Court has found that anything have to do with telecommunications is the jurisdiction of the federal government. It can therefore be argued that Quebec has no authority to order ISPs to censor the internet. Any legal challenge is likely to be sustained with this ruling serving as case law for the courts.