NEWS
09/02/2016 11:21 EDT | Updated 09/03/2017 01:12 EDT

CRTC says Quebec cannot block access to websites without regulator's approval

MONTREAL — Quebec cannot block people's access to certain websites without the approval of the CRTC, says a preliminary opinion by the federal broadcast regulator.

Federal telecom law states only the CRTC can legally order a website be blocked, "and this would require exceptional circumstances," secretary general Danielle May-Cuconato said in a letter sent to all attorneys general in Canada on Thursday.

The CRTC was responding to an application filed in July by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which claims legislation passed by the Quebec government earlier this year violates freedom of expression and federal law.

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao has said the law is necessary to ensure online gambling companies maintain responsible gaming policies.

It grants provincial gaming authority Loto-Quebec the right to draw up a list of gambling companies operating outside the provincial online platform, called espacejeux.com.

Internet service providers would then be forced — under threat of financial penalty — to block Quebecers' access to these sites.

The law is also facing a Quebec Superior Court challenge by Canada's telecom lobby, which filed a lawsuit in late July.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association is asking the court to declare the legislation unconstitutional.

John Lawford, PIAC executive director, said this preliminary opinion clears up the CRTC's position for the upcoming court case.

He cautioned that the CRTC decision was only preliminary, and that his office and the Quebec government have two weeks to respond in writing.

"I think it's as clear as the CRTC can be at the moment," he said in an interview Friday. "That they are thinking website blocking violates the telecom act."

The federal government's 1993 Telecommunications Act 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."

Last July, a spokeswoman for Leitao said the province "informed" the CRTC about its plans.

"We have the reasonable assurance that we are acting within our jurisdiction to protect consumers and fight against the risks of gambling," Catherine Poulin said at the time.

Leitao's office was not immediately available for comment Friday.